Mr. President, I rise today to stress the critical infrastructure needs across our nation and to urge the House of Representatives to act quickly and to pass a meaningful transportation bill.
On March 14 the Senate passed the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act by a strong bipartisan vote of 74-22. Later that month I came to the floor of the Senate to highlight passage, the importance of the passage of our Surface Transportation bill.
Since then the American people have been waiting for the United States House of Representatives to act on their version of a transportation bill. Now three months to the week after the Senate passed our transportation bill on a 74-22 bipartisan vote, with the nation continuing to wait for action and the June 30th deadline to renew or extend the transportation program coming closer and closer, the United States House of Representatives leaders have announced not a short-term extension, but they have announced their interest in a longer-term extension to the end of 2012.
I suppose the good news is that that means that we have some interest in moving forward with the transportation, but that is not good enough for the people of this country. In Minnesota, as you know, Mr. President, the construction season has begun. And because of our cold winters, we don't always have a long construction season. This kind of delay, where you have a very good bipartisan bill which includes $700 million in construction projects for our state, the State of Minnesota, this kind of delay can be crippling.
We have a much smaller window of time in which we can complete much-needed projects for easing congestion and improving safety, problems that will help get commuters out of traffic and moving in the twin cities. Projects to help ensure that farmers and food producers across greater Minnesota can transport their supplies at the right time to the right place to ensure that we continue to have a safe and reliable food supply.
You think about the projects in Minnesota that need to be completed: Highway 52 in Rochester. Highway 52, a longtime problem in terms of deaths and traffic accidents, still an area where people get killed. U.S. Highway 14 in southern Minnesota continuing to wait for that to be completed. 101 in the western metropolitan area, a little girl just killed walking her bike, getting on her bike, going across that Highway 101. Killed. 94 out by Rogers, a bottle neck all the time. I've been in it several times myself. 23 in Marshal needs to get done. Major company out there, Schwans, but you have a highway that isn't able to carry the food and the goods to market that it should because that construction hasn't been done.
Roads from Morehead to the Iron range to Duluth, all that needs to be completed that is why, Mr. President, it is not good enough to hear the House of Representatives talk about a simple extension when we have a strong bipartisan transportation bill that came out of the United States Senate.
We also need to be aware of the costs incurred by each additional day of delay. The longer it takes for the Congress to pass a transportation bill, the longer it takes projects to be completed, the more expensive they become to taxpayers. That goes to reason. Anyone that's built an addition on their house understands that. Delay, delay, delay. That is a waste of taxpayers' money and that is why we have to get this bill done. State Departments of Transportation, contractors, construction workers, engineering firms and other industries need certainty to move forward with the bill.
These are private-sector jobs, Mr. President. Private-sector jobs that await the passage of this bill. They should not have to wait any longer for the U.S. House of Representatives to act.
Take, for example, Caterpillar. That might not be the first company you'd think of when you think about the transportation bill. Everyone has seen Caterpillar tractors, Caterpillar trucks throughout the rural areas. This business employs 750 people at its manufacturing facility in Minnesota. I've been there. They gave me a pink Caterpillar hat. I spoke to all their employees. They are people on the front lines of American industries, helping to create the real Made-in-America product that puts jobs in our country and puts dollars in our economy. They're ready to get to work, Mr. President. They are ready to get to work improving our nation's roads, our bridges, our tunnels and our highways.
I ask the House of Representatives why are we making these workers wait? They are ready to get these paving projects done. They're ready to help the commuters in our state to get to work faster. They want to get going. There is no reason to delay getting this bill done.
For decades passing a transportation bill was considered one of the most basic noncontroversial duties of the United States Congress. And we have an opportunity to come together to find commonsense solutions to move America forward. We cannot afford to keep the engine of our economy idling by limiting our talks to yet another extension of the surface transportation program.
The Senate transportation bill is fully paid for and will allow states to move forward to make the critical infrastructure investments in our nation's roads, in our bridges and in our transit system. In addition, the bill makes critical reforms to transportation policy.
Just last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report announcing that 58% of high school seniors had texted or e-mailed while driving in the previous month. 58% of kids out there on the road where you're all driving. You've got to remember that 58%, nearly 60% of the kids out on the road are doing a text or doing an e-mail while they're driving. That is not acceptable. The bipartisan transportation bill includes provisions that I helped to work on to help prevent texting while driving and implement graduate license standards. The bill gives state Departments of Transportation increased flexibility so that they can address these unique needs.
The Senate-passed Surface Transportation Bill also reduces the number of highway programs from over 100 down to 30. By saying they're not going to pass this bill in the House they stop us from getting rid of those kinds of duplication. It defines clear national goals for our transportation policy. It streamlines environmental permitting. Why would they want to stop that? Why would they want to stop us from streamlining environmental permit, but that is what they are doing by asking for an extension. And the bill expands the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Program. The Minnesota Department of Transportation has successfully used this program in the past and it will continue to be a key element of our states and other states' transportation networks in the future.
The fact of the matter is that we've neglected the roads and bridges that millions of Americans rely on for far too long. No one knows that better than we know it in our state, where that I 35W bridge tragically collapsed in the middle of a summer day, something no one could expect would ever happen. It is not just a bridge. It is an eight lane highway six miles from my house. If that can happen there, it can happen anywhere in America.
We simply can't wait and delay any longer when we have a bipartisan bill with 74 senators that voted for it. There is absolutely no excuse for the House of Representatives not taking this up.
If you want to know if there's other bridges with problems, look at this. The number from the Federal Highway Administration shows that over 25% of the nation's 600,000 bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. For proof look no further than the 2009 report card for American infrastructure. It gave our nation's infrastructure a near failing grade.
Crumbling infrastructure doesn't just threaten public safety, it also weakens our economy. Congestion and inefficiencies in our transportation network limit our ability to get goods to market. They exacerbate the divide between urban and rural America. They can strain economic development and competitiveness and they reduce productivity as workers idle in traffic. Americans spend a collective 4.2 billion hours a year stuck in traffic. 4.2 billion hours a year at the cost to the economy of $78.2 billion or $710 per motorist.
So I ask the House of Representatives how can you look at those numbers and decide not to move forward with a bill that streamlines our programs, that actually makes some smart decisions in terms of reform and that actually puts the money out there that we need to build our bridges and build our roads? It's simply time to act. Thank you, Mr. President.