Senator Collins praised MaineDOT and its partners on the successful project and emphasized the need for flexibility to encourage additional innovative approaches in the future
Click HERE to read Sen. Collins’ opening statement.
Washington, D.C.—Today, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the Ranking Member of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, co-led a hearing on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s budget request for fiscal year 2023. Senator Collins questioned Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on a number of transportation issues, including protecting states’ flexibility in using highway funding, prioritizing infrastructure funding for rural communities, training vessels for maritime academies, and the impact of 5G implementation on aviation.
In her opening statement, Senator Collins also told Secretary Buttigieg how proud she was of a bridge project that was recently completed in Portland over the course of a single weekend and displayed pictures of the project’s progression between starting demolition on Friday night and reopening the bridge on Monday morning. Maine DOT and its partners, Cianbro Corporation and Shaw Brothers, completed an I-295 bridge replacement over Veranda Street over the course of just a few days rather than a few years as would be typical for this type of project.
I-295 Bridge Replacement
Senator Collins: “I want to show you a truly extraordinary engineering feat that just occurred in the State of Maine last weekend, and I stress the word weekend. In Portland, Maine, a 60 year old four-lane highway bridge was replaced over the weekend. Work began on Friday night at 7PM. It's shown on the chart to my right, what it looked like on Friday and Saturday, and it began at 7PM to remove the bridge, which runs over Veranda Street in Portland. On Saturday, crews completed the demolition and moved two new built bridge sections, which had been built alongside the existing highway, into place with a self-propelled modular transporter. The bridge as you will see on my left, opened ahead of schedule shortly before 7AM on Monday.
“According to the Maine Department of Transportation, a more conventional bridge construction approach would have created traffic congestion and detours for four years, disrupting the approximately 53,000 motorists that use this portion of I-295 daily. Instead, it was done in a weekend. So I'm very proud of the Maine Department of Transportation and its partners, Cianbro Corporation and Shaw Brothers, for pulling off what is truly an engineering feat. And if you look closely at the Monday 5:53AM picture…of the new bridge, you'll see it's not only in place, it's paved, it's painted, it's completely finished. And yet, on Friday night, it was just a big gap from the demolition.
“So the reason I take the time to go into that is to me, that's why we need flexibility to allow that ingenuity—those engineering feats—to take place.”
Click HERE to watch the Q&A
Senator Collins: “I mentioned in my opening statement the Federal Highway Administration's memorandum that discourages states from moving ahead with projects that add highway capacity and instead indicates that federal funds should be used to prioritize projects that improve existing surface transportation needs…Congress, clearly on a bipartisan basis, rejected the idea that DOT is advocating for in the December memo. So I'm going to ask you a very straightforward way. Will you rescind or revise that memo?”
Secretary Buttigieg: “So I will be happy to clarify the memo if it's continuing to cause confusion, but it was crafted in a way to take great care, to emphasize the importance that anything that Federal Highway Administration does must be compatible with the law as written, and our intent in our practice is to do just that.”
Senator Collins: “I think that that clarification would be really helpful because I can assure you from talking to my colleagues and state commissioners that this guidance has created a lot of angst and concern and it is in conflict with our intent.”
Infrastructure Funding for Rural Communities
Click HERE to watch the Q&A
Senator Collins: “…[D]o you intend to allocate a certain percentage of RAISE grants to ensure that rural states and communities will be able to receive that funding as they have in the past?”
Secretary Buttigieg: “So it's very important to us to make sure that smaller communities and rural communities get support from this legislation and from these programs specifically, and we've sought to not only meet statutory requirements, but go above and beyond where appropriate. And one example I would offer is that in the last cycle for the INFRA grants, I think legislatively there was a 25 percent set aside for rural projects. We wound up actually doing not 25, but 44 percent, so almost doubling that…So my point is that's aimed to be in the spirit of making this more user friendly for all communities, including small communities, and you have my commitment that smaller and rural projects will not be shorted in the RAISE program or any other provided under the law.”
Maritime Academy Training Vessels
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Senator Collins: “Over the past several years, this Committee has appropriated funding for the replacement of the training vessels that are at the state maritime academies. They are rapidly reaching the end of their useful life. I have two questions related to them. First, with steel prices rising and supply chain disruptions, what is the outlook for ensuring that these much needed vessels are delivered on time?”
Secretary Buttigieg: “So just as the price of a gallon of milk can be impacted by inflation, so can the cost of shipbuilding and that's something that's very much a concern for us. I think that one benefit is the multiyear vision that has been laid out through these acquisitions will hopefully allow for some smoothing of the spiky nature of, for example raw material and commodity prices that are involved in the construction, but it is something that we will monitor closely to try to ensure that those concerns around cost don't stand in the way of timely and on budget delivery.”
Senator Collins: “Recently, it was brought to my attention that the first vessel of this sort, which is going to the State University of New York Maritime College, has a home port designation as Norfolk, Virginia, on the side of the ship, even though obviously, SUNY's Maritime College is located in New York. Now all of the current training vessels have on them the location of the school, and Maine Maritime Academy certainly wants to see Castine, Maine, not Norfolk, Virginia…on the vessel. Each of the schools takes great pride in these ships…What can we do to ensure that we follow the practice of we've always followed, and these vessels have the location of the Maritime Academy imprinted on them?”
Secretary Buttigieg: “So this issue was recently brought to my attention as well. And I know that there are many overlapping questions both of custom and of law, I would be happy to continue to be in touch with your office and to work with you on this because I know it's of great interest to the state academies and understand the importance of the issue.”
Click HERE for Q&A
Senator Collins: “In December and January, the aviation industry came shockingly close to experiencing significant operational disruptions due to concerns regarding the rollout of 5G C-Band services, and the uncertainty about that effect on aircraft, radio altimeters. My question to you is this. We know that the agreement that was reached is going to expire this summer. Do we anticipate there are going to be further disruptions? We're seeing passenger travel go up. We know that we have supply chain problems. And I'm very worried that we could be back in a situation for those approximately 5 percent of airports where 5G has not been turned on near them.”
Secretary Buttigieg: “Thank you for raising this. This continues to be a top concern and something that I'm personally very engaged in. We're in a much better place than we were in December and January, largely because we have much better dialogue and collaboration, not just among regulators, but among industries and have been directly engaging with the airlines, the aviation equipment manufacturers, and with the telecom carriers to make sure that we're on a better path…We are doing everything we can to pursue the technological solutions that I think will be the ultimate long range fix for this, while in the meantime, continuing to pursue and support the negotiated solutions, which I would note have really worked on a voluntary basis up to now, and I think that is a credit to the collaborative spirit that we were able to reach across industries and players, but has not been replaced by a technological fix just yet and won't be completely resolved by the summer.”