Published Nov/Dec 2004

Bush and Kerry address important mobility issues
for AAA members.

The nation’s highways, airways and mass transit system are vital to America. Without safe, efficient and affordable transportation systems, American commerce, public health, security and even personal independence would be significantly affected.

While it’s probably true that mobility and transportation issues never decided a presidential election, such concerns as fuel prices, highway conditions and traffic congestion affect almost every aspect of our daily lives and are primary concerns to AAA and its members. The issues are key to most people’s idea of freedom. So this July, AAA posed five mobility related questions to both Sen. John Kerry and President George W. Bush. Their written answers to the first three questions appear here.

Q. According to the American Highway Users Alliance, the number of traffic chokepoints– places where highways cannot accommodate all the cars–rose 40 percent in five years, from 167 bottlenecks in 1997 to 233 in 2002. Traffic congestion is a top concern of members and drivers nationwide. What is the federal government’s role in addressing this local and regional problem?

I think that the federal government has a substantial role to play in reducing traffic congestion, because while it is a local and regional problem, it has a national impact on the economy, the environment and the quality of life for all Americans. The government can help ease congestion by increasing its investment in the nation’s highways and roads to repair infrastructure, install intelligent transportation technology to help motorists, and also by investing more in mass transit and passenger rail, which helps reduce traffic.

The Senate passed a highway and transit spending bill this year that addresses the funding problem, but unfortunately the President has promised not to sign it.

The government can also play a role in helping state and local governments promote smart growth in the urban and suburban areas that account for most of the congestion. My administration will actively work with the states to help reduce traffic congestion and create a balanced transportation system that gives people reliable options.

My administration is committed to fostering the safest, most secure transportation system that enhances mobility, reduces congestion and grows our economy.

Last year, I proposed the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003 (SAFETEA) to provide funding for highways, highway safety and public transit improvements for the next six years.

Under SAFETEA, highway funding will grow by 21 percent over the levels provided in TEA-21, the previous six-year bill. The Federal Highway Administration is working to deploy Intelligent Transportation Systems in more states to improve pavement condition, bridges and infrastructural investment decisions. In addition, my SAFETEA proposal includes a new Infrastructure Performance and Maintenance Program, designed to route funds to “ready-to-go” projects that alleviate traffic congestion. These efforts, combined with SAFETEA’s flexible state funding measures, will help improve road conditions and engineering and minimize traffic congestion.

Improving highway infrastructure, expediting environmental review of new projects, and increasing flexibility, enforcement and funding for state safety initiatives will reduce road-related injuries. Providing new, more flexible funding initiatives for states will allow them to identify and direct funds to meet their state and local transportation needs. SAFETEA will also continue efforts to streamline transportation programs and project approval and implementation.

Q. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Center for Statistics and Analysis, in 2002, motor vehicle crashes were the No. 1 killer of people between the ages of 2 and 33. What steps can the federal government take to address the problem?

Despite advances in technology and mandates on issues like blood alcohol limits and standards for tires after the tire recalls a few years ago, we still have over 40,000 deaths annually on our highways. The federal government has a role in working to reduce these deaths.

The current highway bill contains a comprehensive safety section that includes provisions to reduce rollovers, increase seat belt use and improve the safety of commercial drivers. It’s a step in the right direction, and I hope we can get some of these provisions enacted. When I’m president, my administration will address safety issues and work with state and local officials to advocate policies that will help reduce the number of deaths on our roads.

Improving highway safety and reducing highway fatalities are essential priorities of this administration. SAFETEA would more than double funding for highway safety improvements, establish a new core safety program and create a new safety belt incentive program to strongly encourage states to achieve higher safety belt usage rates. SAFETEA also includes provisions for strengthening vehicle safety, governmental frontal crash test standards, tire safety, seat belt designs and access to safety information at car dealerships. SAFETEA would also create the National Blue Ribbon Commission on Highway Safety. The commission would be a 15-member body authorized to develop a realistic national safety goal and corresponding strategies in order to tackle the needs of engineering, education, enforcement and emergency response for the nation’s highways.

DOT already has an aggressive goal for reducing the four types of crashes that result in the most fatalities and injuries nationwide: run-off-road situations, crashes at intersections, pedestrian and bicyclist collisions with vehicles, and high-speed accidents. The Federal Highway Administration, within DOT, is working to reduce fatalities due to each of these types of crashes by 10 percent by 2007 by, among other programs, regional intersection safety workshops and national strategies to increase seat belt use. The safety improvements included in SAFETEA will help us achieve these important objectives.

Q. This spring and early summer, in markets across the country, motorists saw dramatic swings in gasoline prices. Additionally, events in the Middle East continue to underscore America’s dependence on foreign oil. What will you do to accelerate development of fuels that reduce that dependence and improve quality of life for all Americans? And, in the shorter run, what will you do to stabilize our volatile fuel market?

I have been a strong supporter of renewable fuels, including ethanol, biomass and biodiesel. I believe that renewable energy, grown on America’s farms and produced in producer-owned facilities, must be part of America’s energy future. It will reduce pollution, spur economic development and reduce our dependence on Mideast oil. As president, I will ensure that the federal government leads the way towards these goals by funding research and development and creating a national market for renewable fuels.

In addition, I will:
• Ensure that at least 5 billion gallons of renewable fuel are part of America’s energy supply by 2012.
• Fund research efforts to help solve critical problems in the widespread adoption of hydrogen fuel, such as infrastructure needs and vehicle challenges. Hydrogen has the potential to power our cars without pollution and, with the right technology and environmental controls, may be produced efficiently from natural gas and coal, as well as from renewable sources like wind, the sun, hydropower and geothermal energy.
• Help jump-start the marketplace by fueling 50,000 federal government cars and trucks with non-petroleum fuels by 2010. I will also bring state and local governments to the table to encourage innovation that moves America closer to an energy economy built on clean domestic fuels.

A Kerry administration will use real diplomacy to do what George Bush hasn’t–pressure OPEC to start providing more oil. We will also stop diverting oil to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve until gas prices get back to normal, and simplify the patchwork of rules on gas all over this country.

I am concerned about how the price of gasoline affects families and businesses, and I have proposed a comprehensive energy plan to lower energy prices for the long term. It would increase domestic energy production, expand the use of technology, encourage alternative and renewable energy, reduce dependence on foreign sources, create jobs and promote economic growth. Unfortunately, energy legislation incorporating a number of my proposals has been blocked by a minority of senators.

I proposed tax incentives for consumers who purchase hybrid and fuel cell vehicles, which will lessen dependence on foreign oil and reduce pollution. I also raised fuel-economy standards for SUVs, vans and pickup trucks for the first time in a decade. Once fully adopted, this rule will save 343,000 barrels per day of gasoline, or about 1 billion barrels over 10 years. And my hydrogen fuel initiative will provide a total of $1.7 billion over five years for research and development of hydrogen, fuel cell and advanced automotive technologies.

Additionally, I called for development of just 2,000 acres in Alaska (out of a total 19 million acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). This single step could produce up to 1 million barrels of oil a day for the next 20 years, dramatically increasing America’s domestic production and enhancing our national security.

Q. Whether they’re traveling by airplane, boat, rail or car, AAA members want to travel safely and efficiently, at a reasonable cost, without harming the environment. Is that possible? And, if so, what investments are needed to create it? What role should public transportation play?

It is possible and we continue to move toward that goal. Just in the past few years, more environmentally friendly travel options have become available. Hybrid cars, for instance, get 30 miles more per gallon than regular cars, and I believe that we should provide incentives to help make them more attractive to consumers. The government’s role should be to pursue economic policies that spur private sector investment in new environmentally friendly technologies. This will help create jobs and ultimately provide people with inexpensive transit options that minimize the impact on the environment. I also believe that investing in public transportation is essential, since the country is becoming more urban and millions of Americans already rely on it.

I have outlined a comprehensive energy plan that will tap America’s initiative and ingenuity to strengthen our national security, grow our economy and protect our environment.

The administration’s $256 billion SAFETEA proposal strikes exactly that balance. SAFETEA more than doubles funding for highway safety improvements, includes a new Infrastructure Performance and Maintenance Program to fund projects that target traffic chokepoints and ensures that highway improvement projects are completed in a timely manner. We can do all of this without raising taxes or compromising environmental protections.

In February 2003, I announced a hydrogen fuel initiative to help reverse America’s dependence on foreign oil. Hydrogen will one day power our cars, trucks, homes and businesses while producing virtually no pollution or greenhouse gases. This initiative will provide a total of $1.7 billion over five years for research and development of hydrogen, fuel cell and advanced automotive technologies. Specifically, my budget for 2005 includes $228 million for the hydrogen fuel initiative—an increase of $69 million or 43% over 2004 funding. In addition, I am currently finalizing a rule to dramatically lower sulfur emissions from diesel engines along with an interstate air quality rule that will reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides by nearly 70% by 2018. The Natural Resources Defense Council called this rule the most significant public health step in a generation.

Q. Given the many transportation challenges facing our nation—most of which require more money than is currently generated by gas tax dollars—would an increase in the federal gasoline tax pay off in improved safety and mobility?

I oppose increasing the gas tax, and believe we can make important investments in America without increasing the gas tax. I think that more funding could certainly help in improving highway safety. As I noted earlier, the Senate passed a transportation bill this year that includes over $6 billion for safety programs, and we did it without increasing taxes. I’m disappointed that the bill is stuck in Congress because it would address infrastructure problems all over the country and create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process. I think that, in general, not enough attention has been paid to the transportation system over the past few years, and I intend to change that when I am president.

I am firmly opposed to increasing gas taxes and will fight any attempt to do so. We must address the transportation issues facing America with smart, effective legislation that will enhance mobility and increase safety without raising taxes on consumers. SAFETEA would meet these needs by providing over $212 billion in funding for highway and safety programs and nearly $44 billion in funding for public transportation programs from fiscal year 2004 through fiscal year 2009. SAFETEA would also provide states with new innovative financing tools, including tax-free, private activity bonds and flexible federal loan assistance. It would grant states broad new flexibility to transfer safety funds among various safety programs to encourage the development of highway safety plans that identify which improvements are of the highest priority. And SAFETEA would improve traffic and freight management, to improve mobility on our nation’s roads.

^ to top | previous page

Contents may not be reproduced in whole or in part unless expressly authorized in writing by AAA Traveler Magazines.