When the 118th Congress convened in January, an agreement between Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) created competition in obtaining a seat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee. The leaders decreased each party’s seats by two. The importance of the reduction was not lost on incoming T&I Chairman Rep. Sam Graves’ (R-MO) as he welcomed members to the committee.
“The T&I Committee is highly sought after by both sides (of the aisle) because of the direct impacts these issues can have on people’s lives,” Graves said. “Improving our nation’s infrastructure and ensuring an efficient transportation supply chain are the types of improvements that can significantly better the day-to-day lives of our constituents.”
At the helm of the T&I Committee after four years as the committee’s ranking Republican member, Graves set an ambitious agenda. Distributing funds from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) tops his list.
“T&I will have a full agenda over the next two years, including oversight of the administration, its implementation of the massive $1.2 trillion infrastructure law, and its policies that have exacerbated many of the economic crises facing the nation,” he said.
A spokesperson for the T&I Committee elaborated on Graves’ comments, noting that the committee will pursue an active agenda on a number of issues, including issues relating to highway infrastructure and policies relevant to the trucking industry. Oversight of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) implementation will be a top priority.
“The committee will also work to address the supply chain crisis, which has been exacerbated by the administration’s runaway federal spending, historic inflation crisis, and anti-energy agenda,” the spokesperson said. “Since early 2021, the administration has undertaken reviews, issued reports, and created a task force to address short-term supply chain bottlenecks, but the results have led largely to fanfare and blog posts while the country continues to face significant supply chain issues. The committee has been gathering stakeholder input and will, working alongside other Committees in the House, put forward a package to improve problems identified across the supply chain and alleviate this long-running strain on our economy.”
The committee will focus on streamlining infrastructure project reviews, making the approval process more efficient without compromising environmental protections.
“Delays for major projects can last from six or seven years to more than a decade,” the spokesperson said. “That’s unacceptable. Time is money. Getting projects built faster with less red tape can increase the impact of infrastructure dollars available.”
Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR) accepted leadership over the T&I Highways and Transit subcommittee, the group whose work most impacts the trucking industry.
“An efficient and safe highway system is critical to America’s competitiveness in the global economy and a vital component of our national security,” Crawford said. “I look forward to providing vigorous oversight (of funds) to ensure they are spent on projects that are priorities for states and local governments.”
Based on the comments of representatives appointed to the T&I Committee, Crawford’s focus on local priorities rings true.
Rep. Eric Burlison (R-MO) says he wants Congress to prioritize Interstate 44 in his home district.
“For anyone who sees (I-44) knows that it’s a bottleneck road,” Burlison said. “It’s an arterial road that’s important to our community and it’s congested. If we’re going to spend money, I’d like to see it spent there.”
Rep. Pat Ryan (R-NY) is also taking his appointment to the T&I Committee as an opportunity to emphasize work in his district.
“Whether you take Metro-North to New York City, travel Route 17 through Orange County, or need improved broadband in Dutchess County, I will fight every day to make sure that funding comes right back here to the Hudson Valley,” Ryan said.
Even Graves can’t avoid promoting what the T&I Committee’s work could mean for his home state. In an interview with St. Louis Public Radio, he noted that Missouri Gov. Mike Parson had already contacted his office about improving Interstate 70 across Missouri.
“We’re in the process of looking into every avenue we can possibly find to be able to find dollars to make I-70 more safe and add (extra) lanes,” Graves said. But he didn’t confine his comments to highways within his home state.
“People traveling across this country are using I-70 or I-80, or whatever the big interstates are that go from east to west,” Graves said. “Those are heavy priorities for not only people but for everything that moves. All the products that move … sooner or later, it’s gonna go by truck. It’s got to get to the end user by truck, and that’s down our highways. And we want to make sure that those are as safe as they can be.”
In response to Graves’s appointment, TCA President Jim Ward shared, “TCA is looking forward to working with Rep. Graves as the new leader of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Having previously served as the committee’s ranking member that past four years, Graves is very knowledgeable about the issues impacting the trucking industry and understands its vital role within the American economy.”
Ward also emphasized that he is optimistic that “T&I will continue to be a highly effective committee and will hopefully work in a bipartisan manner to make consequential improvements.”
From the Democrats’ side of the aisle, Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA) fills the seat of the T&I Committee’s ranking member.
“I am honored in the confidence my Democratic colleagues have placed in my approach,” Larsen said. “Democrats will protect and build upon the success of the bipartisan infrastructure law and the transportation provision of IIJA to create more jobs, keep the economy moving, and build a cleaner, greener, safer, and more accessible transportation system.”
Speaking before the full committee in a hearing entitled “The State of Transportation Infrastructure and Supply Chain Challenges,” Larsen outlined the Democrats’ view of challenges for the new Congress and included five priorities — a cleaner, greener, safer, and more accessible transportation network; job creation; capacity building; environmental protection; and safeguarding the nation’s economy.
Larsen also noted the achievements of the 117th Congress and how they will contribute to the work of the new committee.
“We have come a long way in two years,” Larsen said. “America faced unprecedented economic challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic placed incredible stress on American workers and families as well as massive pressure on supply chains.
“We finally responded decisively to bolster our economy and limit the fallout from the immediate crisis facing our nation, while modernizing and transforming the way people and goods move, with the passage of several landmark bills: the American Rescue Plan, the Inflation Reduction Act, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL),” he added.
Larsen noted that the BIL was the largest achievement of the T&I Committee over the past two years, and that the committee will continue to focus on implementing the $660 billion provided to T&I.
“This dollar amount, and the number of grant opportunities, is significantly larger than any previous transportation or infrastructure authorization administered by DOT,” he said. “And the pace at which these dollars are reaching communities is truly impressive.”
He also stated that he looked forward to working with Graves and the other side of the aisle in bipartisan fashion.
As both Graves and Larsen alluded, whether Republican or Democrat, appointees to the T&I Committee have one thing going for them: Roads and highways turn both to the right and to the left, and bridges cross divided party lines. In Congress, that’s a route for getting things done.
Since retiring from a career as an outdoor recreation professional from the State of Arkansas, Kris Rutherford has worked as a freelance writer and, with his wife, owns and publishes a small Northeast Texas newspaper, The Roxton Progress. Kris has worked as a ghostwriter and editor and has authored seven books of his own. He became interested in the trucking industry as a child in the 1970s when his family traveled the interstates twice a year between their home in Maine and their native Texas. He has been a classic country music enthusiast since the age of nine when he developed a special interest in trucking songs.