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March 24, 2021 4:45 PM, EDT

Senate Commerce Committee Chair Looks to Infrastructure Investments

Sen. Maria Cantwell"We’ve already seen that freight and infrastructure programs have helped our economy be more economically efficient, but more needs to be done," Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell says. (Tasos Katopodis/Bloomberg News)

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Approving major investments for transportation projects would significantly improve the country’s economy, the chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Committee said at a hearing March 24.

Speaking in advance of President Joe Biden’s planned unveiling of his multitrillion-dollar infrastructure policy plan, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) pointed to myriad benefits linked with improving freight and commuter corridors.

“Congress must provide funds to invest in mega projects that are important to our nation and to regional economies,” Cantwell said during a hearing with stakeholders. She noted the American Society of Civil Engineers’ “C-” grade for the country’s overall infrastructure.

“We’ve already seen that freight and infrastructure programs have helped our economy be more economically efficient, but more needs to be done,” she said. “If we can ease the congestion on our roadways, and at rail crossings, and our ports, it only helps our economy grow.

“Now is the time to partner with local and regional people to solve these problems and get more out of America’s competitiveness. We also need to help the serious congestion at our ports with containers.”

Cantwell, chairwoman of the panel with jurisdiction over trucking policy, is expected to play a key role during Congress’ consideration of Biden’s infrastructure agenda. A House transportation panel is planning to consider a highway policy bill as early as May. Senate committees are expected to take up their bills around that time.

The panel’s top Republican, Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, agreed investments are needed throughout the country’s mobility grid. And he called on the Democratic leadership in Congress to pursue a bipartisan approach when they consider transportation policy legislation. Wicker’s sentiment has been echoed by top Republicans on the transportation committees in the House of Representatives.

“Surface transportation reauthorization needs to be a bipartisan effort. Transportation issues have a tremendous impact on all Americans,” Wicker said. “Therefore, all senators should be included in the legislative process. This committee has a long track record of consensus and bipartisanship.”

Appearing before the Commerce panel, former deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari argued that electrification of the transportation system should be Congress’ main short-term imperative.

John Porcari

Porcari

He emphasized the need for expanding access to charging facilities at rest areas, adding, “Better stewardship of our public rights-of-way can greatly accelerate the generation and transmission of renewable energy.”

The mayor of Hattiesburg, Miss., Toby Barker, said collaboration among federal, state and local agencies is essential for advancing big-ticket infrastructure projects. As he put it, “As we look to where we want each of our individual communities to go, in economic development, in education, in tourism and in quality of life, I have to believe shared infrastructure investment between federal, state and local governments can build strong, visionary cities, which in turn will be cornerstones of an even stronger nation.”

The White House announced Biden plans to travel to Pittsburgh on March 31 to discuss details related to his Build Back Better plan. The president’s $3 trillion vision for infrastructure improvements is expected to address concerns related to surface transportation, climate change and access to renewable energy.

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