Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Subcommittee Examines Efficiency of Nation's Transportation Infrastructure

Today, the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation held a hearing to review ongoing Federal, State, academic, and industry research and development (R&D) activities intended to reduce lifecycle energy consumption and fuel use, and also to promote sustainability for surface transportation infrastructure.

“There are approximately 4 million miles of roads in this country and Americans drive approximately 4 trillion miles per year,” noted Subcommittee Ranking Member Phil Gingrey (R-GA). “To support all this traffic, government expenditures on our highways are approximately $140 billion annually. Unfortunately, even with this constant influx in spending, our infrastructure cannot support our growing traffic needs.”

Gingrey continued, “The priority of research and development in the transportation sector has lagged behind construction and rehabilitation, but the challenges that now face our transportation infrastructure will require innovative designs and technologies.”

The surface transportation sector is a major contributor to energy use and pollution, accounting for approximately 33 percent of carbon emissions in the U.S. annually. While materials and technologies currently exist to combat pollution and energy waste from transportation infrastructure, there are cost and other logistical decisions that have limited their widespread implementation.

Advocating for a larger research budget at the Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA), Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) spoke highly of efforts to promote a more efficient, sustainable transportation infrastructure, noting that further research would pay for itself in the long term. Within the U.S. Department of Transportation, RITA has sought to effectively prioritize transportation research programs, identify innovation gaps, and coordinate research and technology efforts within the Department, and throughout the transportation community.

Further highlighting the benefits of increased investments in R&D, one of today’s witnesses, Dr. Christopher Poe, Assistant Agency Director at the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), cited a study conducted by TTI in order to estimate the benefits of improving mobility in congested Texas cities. The 2003 study concluded that an increase in spending of $66 billion, in order to reduce traffic congestion, would generate $540 billion in savings from lower travel delay, reduced fuel consumption and business efficiency. This total return on investment represents an 8 to 1 return ration.

Witnesses at today’s hearing also urged additional technology transfer and education efforts in order to engage policymakers and the public to pursue greater use of these new technologies. They noted that a strong partnership between the research and user communities is vital to ensure that R&D efforts are tied to user needs and that demonstration projects prove the effectiveness of various technologies and materials.

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