Mr. President, I rise today in strong support of a strong bill, H.R. 3074, the Transportation and Housing funding bill for Fiscal Year 2008.
I congratulate Chairman Murray and Ranking Member Bond for producing a bill that invests in America’s critical infrastructure and housing needs.
This bill faces a veto threat from President Bush because it exceeds the funding levels he proposed back in February by about five percent.
I want to congratulate my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee, however, because the increased funding fits within the overall Budget adopted by the Senate earlier this year.
That Budget has a smaller deficit than the one proposed by the President.
We have different spending priorities than President Bush.
But I am confident that the priorities reflected in this bill are America’s priorities.
The Appropriations Committee is to be congratulated for bringing us a bill that meets our needs and does so in a fiscally responsible fashion.
The tragedy of the I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis this summer sent an alarm throughout the nation.
We need to embark upon a significant reinvestment in America’s aging infrastructure.
This bill makes an initial down-payment on this reinvestment.
The bill also contains increases in other programs above the President’s budget request.
These, too, represent a much-needed investment.
The Hope VI Housing Program is designed to revitalize severely distressed public housing.
The President wanted to spend just $1 million on this program which is so important to our aging cities such as Baltimore.
This bill, I am proud to say, increases the funding level for Hope VI from $1 million to $100 million.
Several other housing programs get needed boosts as well.
The Section 202 program for low-income seniors is $160 million above the President’s request.
In addition, the bill contains an innovative voucher program, not requested by President Bush, which would provide Section 8 vouchers to homeless veterans.
This bill also contains a major increase in the funding level for the Community Development Block Grant Program, providing more than $1 billion above the President’s request.
The CDBG block grant program has spawned successful development and redevelopment in locations across the nation.
Its track record of success is visible in the revitalized neighborhoods in both urban and rural communities across Maryland and America.
The President had zeroed out the successful Brownfields Redevelopment program, but this bill provides $10 million.
The brownfields programs operated by HUD, which is funded in this bill, and by EPA, which is separately funded, have been enormously successful.
All across Baltimore we see former manufacturing facilities returned to productive use because of these programs.
We have seen successful brownfields redevelopment projects in Hagerstown, in Prince George’s County, and other sites across the State of Maryland.
Our experience is not unique.
This is a wonderful program, and I am proud that this bill reverses President Bush’s misguided attempt to eliminate the Brownfields Redevelopment program in HUD.
Amtrak will receive nearly $1.5 billion in this bill, a $570 million boost over the President’s request.
Baltimore’s Penn Station served more than 900,000 passengers on Amtrak in fiscal 2006.
The BWI Airport station in Lithicum, Maryland, had more that 560,000 boardings and deboardings in fiscal 2006.
Amtrak plays a vital role in our national transportation system, posting a record ridership of 24.3 million passengers last year.
This bill provides Amtrak with the funding necessary to continue all current services and improve railway infrastructure.
The list of programs that are critical to America and given appropriate funding resources in this bill is long.
The major funding levels in this bill, from transportation to housing, represent a sensible investment in America.
In Maryland there are a number of specific provisions that I also want to highlight.
The bill contains transportation funding for projects that will help Maryland cope with the major influx of workers and their families associated with the most recent round of Base Realignment and Closures, or BRAC.
Harford County, Maryland, is home to the Aberdeen Proving Ground.
This bill contains $3 million for BRAC-related transportation projects in the immediate vicinity of the Base.
Similarly, the bill contains $3 million for improvements on Maryland Route 355 in the area of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, which will now be home to the Walter Reed Hospital operations.
As many of my colleagues know, traffic in this area is already very challenging, so this funding is especially important to help us adapt to the infusion of additional workers at NNMC-Bethesda.
Money is also included for two Transit Center operations.
The Bi-County Transit Center in Langley Park will serve bus passengers in Montgomery and Prince George’s County.
The Central Maryland Transit Operations Facility in the middle of the State is also funded at $1 million.
We must make sure that transit programs are our first option as we try to move increasing numbers of people in congested areas that suffer from poor air quality.
This bill makes that key investment in Maryland.
The bill provides $13 million for Final Design of MARC Commuter Rail Improvements and Rolling Stock. As thousands of Maryland commuters can attest every day, the MARC commuter rail service is filled to capacity every work day.
These funds will help to meet the needs of a growing system.
The Transportation Title also contains $500,000 to buy an unused railroad bridge in Baltimore.
Funding will be used assess, acquire, and restore the old CSX Railroad Bridge across the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River.
That bridge will serve as the vital connecting link for the Gwynns Fall Trail, a highly valued pedestrian and bike path that traverses Baltimore City.
The Housing and Urban Development Title also includes funds for several Maryland-specific projects.
The East Baltimore Workforce Development project will receive $200,000 as part of a comprehensive program to bring jobs, training and neighborhood revitalization to a distressed East Baltimore neighborhood.
Montgomery County Long Branch Pedestrian Linkages project is funded at $400,000. This project will create pedestrian-friendly linkages from apartment complexes to the public resources and commercial core of the Long Branch neighborhood in Montgomery County.
Colmar Manor is a small town just over the state line from the District of Columbia in Prince George’s County.
The Colmar Manor Community Center, which will serve four of the Port Towns along the Anacostia River, will benefit from the $600,000 provided in the bill.
$500,000 in funding will support environmental education for underserved students in the Baltimore area at the new Irvine Urban Outreach Center.
This bill addresses the needs of America and it addresses the needs of Maryland.
I am proud to support it and encourage my colleagues to join me in doing so.
Thank you, Mr. President.
I yield back the remainder of my time.