Segment 1 Of 2 Next Hearing Segment(2)
SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
Page 1 TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 PLEASE NOTE: The following transcript is a portion of the official hearing record of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Additional material pertinent to this transcript may be found on the web site of the Committee at [http://www.house.gov/transportation]. Complete hearing records are available for review at the Committee offices and also may be purchased at the U.S. Government Printing Office.
IMPLEMENTATION OF THE RAIL-TO-TRAILS ACT
WEDNESDAY, JULY 10, 1996
U.S. House of Representatives,
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure,
Subcommittee on Railroads,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 3:13 p.m. in room 2167 Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Susan Molinari (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Mrs. KELLY [assuming Chair]. The hearing will come to order.
We are calling the subcommittee together this afternoon to examine the administration of the rails to trails program. The program serves a valuable purpose in preserving rail corridors for future use and promoting outdoor recreation, and I, for one, appreciate having the opportunity to hear from the witnesses today on the administration of the program.
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The primary purpose of the rails to trails program and railbanking is to preserve railroad corridors for future use. We've seen examples of this where the objective has been realized, and most recently the reactivation of a corridor in Ohio that had been rail banked in 1990.
We need to preserve rail corridors, and this program is an effective means of doing so.
Patterns of commerce change, and previously unprofitable rail corridors may once again become useful. In fact, Washington State recently reactivated 100 miles of the John Wayne Trail for use to respond to the changing patterns of commerce in the State.
Of course, rail trails also provide a wonderful transportation alternative for many people and enjoyable avenues of recreation for people of every age.
We have a wonderful rail trail program in two of the counties that I represent, and every age person can be found on those trails.
Rail trails increase tourism, they boost the economic development in local communities, and in 1991 a National Park Service study examined three of these trails and found a net economic gain of $1.2 million per trail.
A 1986 study in Seattle found that property values adjacent to a rail trail increased an average of 6 percent because of the presence of a trail.
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The program makes good economic sense, boosts recreational opportunities, and preserves important rail corridors for the future.
I want to take this opportunity, also, to announce that there is a web site where all the testimony and background material for the Transportation Committee can be reached. If you are interested in that web site, in all small, not capitals, but all small alphabet it's http://www.house.gov/transportation. I'm going to do that again for anyone that wants it and didn't get it. We'll submit it for the record. It sounds like dot-com-dot-com-dot-com, but, at any rate, you can reach us on a web site, and I think for everybody out there who is interested in this program and any other things that we in the Transportation Committee are doing, it's a good thing to be able to pick us up wherever you want to do that.
Now, let me call up the group. Let me call on Mr. Oberstar. You have a statement?
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you very much, Madam Chairman, for opening these hearings.
I want to thank Chairwoman Molinari for agreeing to hold hearings on the subject of rails to trails, an issue that is of very great importance to many thousandsand I will say millionsof Americans all across this land who have enjoyed the marvelous accomplishments of the several rails to trails bills that have been enacted into law and that ultimately became part of the enhancements provisions of ISTEA in the 1991 legislation.
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Under the 1983 act and under the ISTEA provisions, over 800 rails to trails have been opened in 48 States. Some 90 million people annually are enjoying the benefits of rails to trails facilities. Some 16,000 miles, and an additional 1,000 miles of rail trail proposals are now in the works.
I must say that I am a user, myself, of rails to trails. I quite frequently ride the Washington and Old Dominion abandoned railroad grade bed in northern Virginia. Just two weeks ago I did a 50-mile bike ride on that trail, which only in the 1980s was converted from the old Washington and Old Dominion Railroad operation into a magnificent trail. There are bicyclists, there are rollerbladers, there are hikers, bikers, joggers, thousands of people on weekends using that wonderful trail.
There are several that are being opened in my Congressional District, and I expect to go out there and do some biking, as well.
These benefits derive from two significant legislative breakthroughs.
The 1983 amendments to the National Trails System Act directed the ICC to consider conversion of a railroad right-of-way to interim use as a recreational trail, not as an abandonment of that right-of-way, but as the conservation of that right-of-way for future re-use as a railroad line.
We must keep in mind that rail trail conversions serve two purposes: both a recreational purpose and preservation of that extraordinary structure, the railroad grade bed, for future possible use as a railroad line.
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The other legislative breakthrough was the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 that provided the funding under the enhancements provisions. Spending for bicycle and pedestrian facilities in the years preceding ISTEA was only $16 million, but since enactment of ISTEA, it's climbed to $100 million, and it's expected to move to $250 million this coming year.
Yet, that represents only 1 percent of our total highway trust fund spendingobviously, not a significant amount of resources from highway needs. Mind you, most of the folks that I see out there on rails to trails, including myself, are highway user taxpayers, so we have a right to see that those funds go to other purposes, as well.
But it is also an outstanding example of leveraging of scarce Federal resources, because these dollars are matched by State, local, and non-Federal private dollars.
The purpose of this hearing is in the nature of an oversight, to focus on the effectiveness and operation of the rail trail program and the several agencies that play a role in its operation. The Surface Transportation Board oversees the abandonment process, and is primarily concerned with whether rail service is preserved on lines that shippers may need. The Federal Highway Administration has its role allocating the ISTEA funding. States have a broad discretion on how to spend their funds, and so the degree of oversight by Federal Highway Administration is appropriate, but it is also restrained.
The National Trail System Act is administered by the National Park Service. They established a national trail system plan. They study the feasibility and desirability of designating trails as national, scenic, or historic trails.
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The Secretary of Transportation is directed under law to cooperate with the Secretary of Interior to ensure that transportation rights-of-way are protected and made available for trail use.
So when we come to this hearing and we find that National Park Service is not part of this hearing, I'm, frankly, dismayed.
Ranking Member Wise wrote to Chairwoman Molinari asking that the National Park Service be allowed to testify in light of their unique role. He was told that the committee does not have jurisdiction over National Park Service and following a precedent set by the Energy and Commerce Committee that previously had jurisdiction over railroad issues, they didn't apparently have Park Service testify at their hearings and we're not going to do it, either. Well, we may have inherited the jurisdiction from the Commerce Committee, but we sure as heck haven't inherited any of their quirky rules and practices.
I just want to say that in 1994, almost 2 years ago to the day, certainly to the month, I chaired, on a bipartisan basis, hearings on scenic overflights above national parks in the Aviation Subcommittee. We had testimony from the National Park Service, from the U.S. Forest Service. This was at the request of democratic and republican Members, alike. We didn't have jurisdiction over National Park Service, but we certainly have jurisdiction over activities that affect the Park Service and in which they play a role.
So it is in the Rail Subcommittee. I just think it's not appropriate to exclude the National Park Service from hearings, so I do ask unanimous consent that the subcommittee include in the hearing record the testimony of the National Park Service dated this month, July 10th, and include it in the record.
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Mrs. KELLY. No objection. So ordered.
[The information received follows:]
Mr. OBERSTAR. Madam Chair, I would also, pursuant to House Rule XI (2)(j)(i) and Committee Rule VII(c), request a separate day of hearing on the matter currently being considered by the subcommittee.
Mr. BACHUS. Mr. Oberstar, I think we're going to have three different hearings, so I think that is the intention.
Mr. WISE. If the gentleman would yield, the concern is that weI made a specific request of the leadership for the National Park Service. I was denied. We think the Park Service should be here, and that's the purpose of the hearing and request for hearing.
Mr. BACHUS. I can speak to that.
Mr. OBERSTAR. If the gentlemanI have the time, and I'm happy to yield to the gentleman, but I just want to point out that I am asserting the minority right under the committee rules to ask a separate day of hearing.
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 Mr. BACHUS. We have no objection.
Mr. OBERSTAR. It's something we can negotiate as we go along, but I just want to state that out.
Mrs. KELLY. We have no objection.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you. That concludes my opening remarks.
Mr. BACHUS. Let me address, before I get into prepared remarks, let me address this question about us not including the National Park Service as one of the agencies testifying today.
The short answer for that is that we do not have jurisdiction over the Park Service, which has a separate, non-transportational mission or transportation mission that is overseen by the Natural Resources Committee.
The Transportation Committee, as we all know, received railroad jurisdiction at the beginning of the present Congress. Prior to 1995, the Energy and Commerce Committee oversaw rail programs, including the Rails to trails Act. When that committee last held oversight hearings in 1993, it treated the ICC as the exclusive Federal agency involved.
We, on the other hand, invited the FHWA, as well as the Surface Transportation Board, because of FHWA's role in administering ISTEA assistance to trail projects. But, at the same time, picking up on what you said, Mr. Oberstar, I think Ms. Molinari wanted to be careful to stay within the Transportation Committee's jurisdiction and the agencies that fall within it, and it had been her intent toand she had asked for the Park Service to, if it had relevant information to contribute to the record, to file that material, which I think they have done, for inclusion in the record.
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But because of these objections today, at least those of the committee who are here and present, we have indicated that we would not object to them testifying.
But I did sort of want to give you that background.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Would the gentleman yield?
Mr. BACHUS. It was just a jurisdictional concern.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Would the gentleman yield?
Mr. BACHUS. I'll yield.
Mr. OBERSTAR. As I note in my opening remarks, it's true we don't have direct jurisdiction over the subjects of the National Park Service, but we conducted an entire hearing in the Aviation Subcommittee in which the Park Service testified. They have testified in the past at Surface Transportation hearings, at Public Buildings and Grounds hearings. There is a precedent in our committee calling those agencies over which we perhaps don't have direct line jurisdiction, but whose activities are affected by programs over which we do have jurisdiction.
Mr. BACHUS. I think you gave a persuasive argument, and it carried the day.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 [Laughter.]
Mr. OBERSTAR. The gentleman has always been a reasonable member of this committee.
Mr. BACHUS. With that, I want to make a statement. Well, here's Ms. Molinari, and I'm going to defer to her.
Ms. MOLINARI [assuming Chair]. Please go ahead.
Thank you all very much. I'm sorry that I'm late this morning.
Let me just be very brief in asking the that record contain my entire opening statement, and to just state that we're pleased to have this opportunity today to conduct the oversight hearing on the agency implementation of the rails to trails statute. I hope it was made clear that this is going to be the first in a series of hearings so that we will get other testimony. The second hearing is going to cover the post-agency conversion of rights-of-way to non-rail use. The third hearing will focus on the extent to which the process of railbanking permits or results in the reconversion of trails to railway use as intended by the statute.
It's appropriate we're conducting this oversight hearing. As many of you know, to my knowledge there has only been one hearing on this program since the 1983 Trails Act amendment changed the legal mechanics of the program.
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Again, I'd like to emphasize that these hearings are being conducted with the aim of gaining a better understanding of the program and learning of any ways that the program could be improved.
It is not our intent to move legislation on rails to trails to this Congress.
We are eager today to hear from our first two witnesses. The first is Mr. Dan King, who is director of the Office of Public Services at the Surface Transportation Board. The second is Ms. Kitay, who is representing Mr. Anthony Kane, executive director of the Federal Highway Administration. These two agencies administer the various statutes within the committees jurisdiction that governs the rails to trails program.
Again, in conclusion, I just want to thank our witnesses, thank our panel, and ask that my entire opening statement be submitted for the record.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Molinari follows:]
Ms. MOLINARI. Mr. Wise?
Mr. WISE. I thank the chairwoman.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 I think that these are timely hearings. I'm going to put my statement into the record.
I would make to observations. First of all, in the State of West Virginia, alone, there are over 20 rails to trails that are utilized by west Virginians and many visitors to our mountain State. West Virginia has become a growing center for hiking, biking, and outdoor activities in the region.
We are also concerned, because when rail corridors are abandoned there is a great void in these communities, and often rails to trails can help generate new development of business in the area, and, I think equally important, provide for railbanking.
Our hope in many areas of our State is that the rails come back to serve those communities, and this provides one way to do it.
Mr. Oberstar brought up, and I, too, wanted to also add what I think is important is including the National Park Service in this. While we have by unanimous consent inserted their statement into the record, we think it is worthwhile that the National Park Service testify.
I appreciate very much the concern for jurisdiction. I do note with interest that the reference was to the Energy and Commerce Committee and precedent they had set in not having the Park Service testify in a previous hearing on this matter. I might say that that may be the first time that the Energy and Commerce Committee has not asserted jurisdiction over something somewhere.
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Ms. MOLINARI. That's why we took it so seriously.
Mr. WISE. I can understand that, Madam Chair, and I was impressed by it, but I spent most of my life on this committee trying to stave off the Energy and Commerce Committee, and so I would hope that we could work it out so that the Park Service would testify.
I thank the Chair.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Wise follows:]
Ms. MOLINARI. Mr. Rahall? Mr. Oberstar, I presume you have spoken already?
Mr. RAHALL. Thank you, Madam Chair.
I just want to associate myself with the comments of my colleague from West Virginia and add my strong support for the Rails-to-Trails Act and the practice known as railbanking. Railbanking has been a great success in West Virginia, and I would dare say throughout the Appalachian region where coal is produced.
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I think many of us from this region have witnessed the pain and the suffering that has been experienced by communities which have been affected by railroad line abandonments, which have been and continue to be prevalent in high-sulfur coal areas.
Railbanking, however, offers these communities some hope for future prosperity. By banking a rail corridor as a trail, economic benefits from recreation and tourism accrue, while the possibility exists at the same time for reconversion of the corridor for rail use in the future.
So it should be obvious to all that the public interest is served very well, as well as the interest of the railroads, themselves. As such, I think it would be extremely unfortunate if this public interest were to fall prey to the selfish interests of a few, who, under the banner of so-called ''private property rights,'' are, in fact, seeking to obtain something they really do not have a real right to have.
With this stated, I do look forward to participating in these hearings, Madam Chair, especially with respect to the program being discussed today, the TEP or transportation enhancements program, which does, of course, come under the jurisdiction of the Surface Transportation Subcommittee.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you very much, Mr. Rahall.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 Mr. Oberstar, I have been informed that Mr. Shuster has asked that we take your request under advisement, and we will do so.
As I stated, in the interest of the beginning of our first hearings, we decided to just stay within our jurisdictional definition.
Glen, who was a member of the Energy and Commerce Staff, has advised me that Mr. Dingell used to qualify, ''Anything that burned is energy, and anything that moved is commerce,'' and that was really how they decided what was in their jurisdiction, quoting him. He still has a lot of clout around here.
We will take that under advisement, and we thank all the committee members for their interest.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Madam Chairman, if you would yield, the request I made was pursuant to the committee rules to request another day, and that's our right to do.
Ms. MOLINARI. Absolutely. Thank you, Mr. Oberstar.
Are there any other opening statements on this side?
Mr. BACHUS. I'd like to make one or two comments for the panelists and for the next panel that testifies.
One thing I'd like, in your testimony or otherwise, that I'm interested in is: right now the railroad unilaterally has a right not to offer the right-of-way. I'd like your comments on that, whether the agency ought to have some voice in it. What if a railroad simply says no? And now, where there are reversionary rights, there is more of an incentive for them to offer it, but sometimes they just say no, and I'd like you to address that, if you wish.
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Secondly, I'd like to know, in the present procedures, where are you having problems? Where would you like a change? What do you think works? What do you think doesn't work? What do you think should be refined? Identify ways that we can better the program.
It is a wonderful program. It is not without critics and, in some cases, they have justified concerns. So weif you want to point out some ways that it doesn't work that we need to address, let us know.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you, Mr. Bachus.
Mr. King, thank you.
TESTIMONY OF DAN KING, DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF PUBLIC SERVICES, SURFACE TRANSPORTATION BOARD, ACCOMPANIED BY EVELYN KITAY, OFFICE OF GENERAL COUNSEL, SURFACE TRANSPORTATION BOARD
Mr. KING. Good afternoon.
Ms. MOLINARI. Good afternoon.
Mr. KING. Madam Chairwoman, members of the committee, I am Dan King, the director of Office of Public Services at the Surface Transportation Board. With me at the table today is Evelyn Kitay, one of the attorneys in our general counsel's office.
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In accordance with the request from the subcommittee, I am here to testify on behalf of the board regarding the role of the board in implementing the National Trails System Act as it was amended in 1983.
The role of the board in this area is principally a ministerial one. My testimony will outline the board procedures available to implement the Trails Act.
The Trails Act gives interested parties the opportunity to negotiate voluntarily agreements to use for recreational trails, railroad right-of-ways that otherwise would be abandoned. The act is intended to preserve railroad right-of-ways for future use.
Many railroads do not own the land on which their track lies; rather, they have easements over the land of adjoining property owners. Unless those easements are rail banked by converting them to a trail, they are extinguished and the land reverts to the adjoining property owners when the board authorizes the abandonment of the line and the abandonment authority is exercised by the railroad.
Some rights-of-way which have been made into trails have actually been reactivated as rail lines.
To begin the trail process, a trail proponent must file a formal request in an actual abandonment docket. That is, the process cannot begin until a railroad has filed an abandonment request with the board.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 A trail use request has no effect on the board's decision as to whether it will give the railroad permission to abandon the line. It is only considered after the board has decided to actually permit the abandonment.
The formal trail use request must include a map showing the rail corridor proposed for trail use and a statement of willingness to assume financial responsibility for the property if an agreement is reached with the railroad for trail use.
The trail use proponent must explicitly agree to assume responsibility for managing the trail, for paying the property taxes on the right-of-way, and for any liability in connection with the trail use.
When the board has decided that an abandonment will be permitted on a particular line and a trail use request has been received regarding that line, the railroad must then notify the board whether it is willing to negotiate a trail use agreement. If the railroad declines to negotiate, the abandonment will proceed as if no trail request were ever filed.
On the other hand, if the railroad agrees to negotiate and no offer of financial assistance to continue rail service on the line is received, the board will impose a trail condition, which gives the trail use proponent 180 days to negotiate a trail use agreement with the railroad.
The board has often granted an extension of that period at the request of both the railroad and the trail use proponent.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 The board has no actual involvement in the negotiations between the railroad and the trail use proponent. It does not analyze, approve, or set any terms in the agreement.
If a trail use agreement is reached, the party may implement it without any further action from the board. If no trail use agreement is reached, the trail use condition expires and the line may be fully abandoned.
The board is not authorized to regulate activities over the actual tail. For example, the board would not set rules on the trail regarding any type of overnight camping or glass bottles or motorized vehicles. Nor does Federal law preempt local regulations of such matters.
Safety and use of the trail is governed by local laws. The Trails Act preempts only State and local laws regarding reversionary property interest in the right-of-way by explicitly providing that there shall be no abandonment and hence no reversion during the period of interim trail use.
The board has no authority to deny trail use if the statute has been properly invoked and the requirements regarding management and railbanking have been met and the railroad has consented to negotiate with the proponent.
The board's jurisdiction is ministerial. The board cannot decide on whether or not railbanking or trail use is desirable.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 As my testimony has indicated, we have in place procedures to carry out the Trails Act. These procedures reflect the fact that formation of trails over the lines that would otherwise be abandoned is a result of a policy determination made by Congress in enacting the Trails Act and is a totally consensual process between the railroads and the trail proponents.
The board has no discretionary decision-making authority in this area and no substantive authority other than to enforce the provisions of the Trails Act.
This concludes my oral remarks. I will be glad to try to answer any questions that you may have.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you very much, Mr. King.
How often, in your experience and in your knowledge, do you know of that railroads reject requests for railbanking of right-of-ways that they propose to abandon? And does the Surface Transportation Board now monitor the outcome of those requests?
Mr. KING. The statistics we have since our regulations in 1986, there have been 232 requests for trails, approximately 5,800 miles. We have granted 172 of those for approximately 4,500 miles.
Those trails requests that were not granted, may not have met the standards for trails use, or there may have been other circumstances that came into effect so that we did not grant or maybe even consider the trails request. If there were other public interests or parties seeking to use the rail corridor for actual rail service the trails request would not be considered.
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Ms. KITAY. Yes. If there were requests to actually use a line for a continued rail service, you would never get to the Trails Act.
Ms. MOLINARI. Is that the major reason why those requests were denied, because there was a
Mr. KING. To my knowledge it is. I'm not really aware of trails requests where there have been a tremendous number of problems in negotiating with the railroads.
That may have been something that happened very early on. I know it's something that does not happen now.
Maybe someone from the Rails Conservancy or someone else at another hearing could probably respond to that better.
Ms. MOLINARI. Mr. Wise, if you want to go, I'll come back. Go ahead.
Mr. WISE. I'll defer to Mr. Oberstar, if I might.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I thank the gentleman for yielding.
Mr. King, I'm puzzled by something in your testimony. In response to passage of the ICC Termination Act, the board set up these new rules or proposed new rules on abandonment.
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In the notice of proposed rule making, you proposed to change the period during which an abandonment has to be listed in a carriers system diagram map before the carrier can apply to abandon it.
As I understand the practice, prior to this NPRM, if an abandonment is opposed by a shipper or opposed by a local government, it has to be listed on the system diagram map for 4 months before a railroad could apply to abandon it.
Now, under the proposed rule, a line could be listed for as little as 30 days before a railroad can apply to abandon it; is that correct15 to 30 days?
Mr. KING. I'm not certain about those specifics in the proposed rules. I can get back to you on that.
Mr. OBERSTAR. So if a railroad has the notice of intent to abandon 15 to 30 days before it files its application, it could list the line on its system diagram map for abandonment on the same day it files its notice of attempt to abandon. The effect would be that the public would have no advance notice that a line is likely to be abandoned. That does notthat conclusion does not seem to be consistent with the board's professed intent of providing the earliest possible notice thatI'm quoting here''The earliest possible notice that a particular right-of-way might be used as a trail, helping to assure timely trail use requests, etc.''
Mr. KING. In a full abandonment hearing, under the ICC rules and under the Board's proposed rules, the railroad, has to publish notice in a local newspaper three consecutive weeks prior to filing with the board an abandonment application. That's why the 15 days would be the least amount of time when they could fall within that 3-week time period.
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I'm not sure about the proposed timeframe with the systems diagram map.
Mr. OBERSTAR. My concern is that the shortening of the time frame from 4 months to the proposed rulemaking timeframe
Mr. KING. Exactly.
Mr. OBERSTAR. may deprive communities of advance notice that a line is about to be abandoned, and therefore preclude them from taking appropriate action to protect that line for rail-to-trail use.
Mr. KING. Absolutely. I understand.
Mr. OBERSTAR. If you would review that, I'll propound this question further in writing so that you may examine it and report to the committee and to each of us.
[The information received follows:]
Most trail use requests come in as part of abandonment exemption requests. Full abandonment applications are generally strongly contested and are more likely to result in continued rail service by another carrier. Out of service lines are more likely candidates for trail use, and those lines are exempt from abandonment procudures, including the system diagram map requirement. As a practical matter, any change in the system diagram map requirement will not have miuch effect on trail use requests. The shortening from 4 months to 30 days of the time for identification on a system diagram map in category 1 is only a proposal and the Board is now looking at comments on the proposed rulemaking.
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Ms. KITAY. I just would like to point out that in exemption cases there is no requirement that proposed abandonments be listed on system diagram maps, and that in the NPR that would change the abandonment rules wewell, first of all, it is just an NPR and all these issues are being considered.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Yes. I understand.
Ms. KITAY. But one of the other proposals would be to move up and improve the ''Federal Register'' notice that is granted in all abandonment cases, and also to make the abandonment regulations consistent with the statutory time frames for processing abandonment cases, which Congress enacted in the new act.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Ms. MOLINARI. Mr. Ehlers, welcome to the committee.
Mr. EHLERS. Thank you. Indeed, I'm not a member of this particular subcommittee. I appreciate the opportunity to just come in. I'm actually attending the Aviation Subcommittee hearing, but I did wish to simply come over and register, first of all, my very strong support for the rails to trails program. It's an excellent program. And also to offer my perspective from the local level, both as a county commissioner, but more frequently at a State legislature when I was heavily involved in these issues.
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Some of the issues raised in the previous questions that I heard as I came in are familiar to me. It's not at all unusual for adjacent landowners to object very strenuously about the rails to trails program, and one can hardly fault them, because they have an ideal situation where they have this extra property in their back yard which no one is using and which they have exclusive use of, or it forms a nice barrier from the neighbors, and suddenly there are people using it again.
However, I found out, when you talk about restoring train service, then they certainly don't want that, either. They have the best of all possible worlds.
I found that generally much of the opposition could be overcome by working diligently with the land owners, but we also found in certain cases the most effective way was to find someone with a sizeable pot of money to simply buy the property from the railroads and deed it over to an environmental organization, and we did that several times, as well. It's a very quick, neat, and clean method of doing it, and there is very little objection once it was over with.
My other experience with this is the public is very, very appreciative of it and heavily uses the rails to trails program. In our area we even have connected with State parks, with trails, bike trails, other trails, and it's very, very popular with the public. It's a very beneficial use of the property which cannot really be used for anything else very well.
I simply wanted to register my strong support for the program and hope that we can do whatever we can to continue the program and make sure it's efficiently administered.
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Thank you for the time, Madam Chairman.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you, Mr. Ehlers.
Mr. WISE. Mr. King, the statute says there are two ways that a rail line can be converted to a trail. One is by imposing a public use condition on the abandonment, and the second is by deferring abandonment while providing for interim use of the right-of-way as a trail. Can you tell me how often each of these two approaches has been used in the last 10 years?
Mr. KING. I think, as a general rule, the proponents often file both a trails use request and a public use request simultaneously. If they are, it is the Board's policy to impose them concurrently.
Under the statute if a trails use request is made, if the railroad agrees to negotiate with the proponent, and then the abandonment is delayed for 180 days, during which time they can negotiate the trails agreement.
If both the proponent and the railroad agree to an extension, we often have granted extensions when they have not come to an agreement by the end of the 180 days.
The public use condition is a statutory condition that is a finite 180 days when anyone can ask the board to find that the proposed abandoned corridor would be useful for a public purpose.
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In making that argument for a public use condition, proponents have to give us certain things, such as they have to state the condition that they are seeking, explain what they think is the public importance of the condition, state the period of time they want the condition to last, and provide a justification for their suggestions.
Our condition expires after 180 days, it cannot be extended. It doesn't necessarily have to be trails, but it can be trails use.
During that period of time, the Board basically delays the abandonment for 180 days. If whatever condition was imposed has not been agreed upon by the end of that 180 days, then it disappears. It's not as with the Trails Act, where there can still be an agreement between the railroad and the proponents to continue to negotiate.
Mr. WISE. Madam Chair, I understand that the bell is pushing us. What I'd like to do is submit some questions in writing.
Ms. MOLINARI. That would be fine, Mr. Wise.
Thank you. I appreciate that, Mr. King, Ms. Kitay, if you can make yourselves available. I'd like to ask one more question before we let this witness go.
You've described the Surface Transportation Board is ministerial, that you really don't have a lot of discretion. Explain to me a little bit then how you decide or in what cases, if there have been any casesthere is noand it becomes an automatic reversion if the partners agree. How do you then, in STB, play a role if there becomes an opportunity for that land that allegedly is to be rail banked to be brought back into rail use? There doesn't seem to be an automatic procedure to go the other way.
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Mr. KING. OK. If an agreement is reached between the railroad and the proponent, then the agreement for interim trail use takes effect.
If someone brings to our attention that what is required under the trail use condition no longer is being done, as not managing the trailnot paying the taxes, or whatever,then. You mean to bring back the actual rail service?
Ms. MOLINARI. Yes.
Mr. KING. I'm sorry. I misunderstood the question.
If the railroad would like to re-institute service, they would only have to request that we reopen the interim trail use and consider the fact that they actually wanted to re-institute service.
Would they file an application with us?
Ms. KITAY. It's automatic if it's the same railroad.
Ms. MOLINARI. And what if it's a different?
Ms. KITAY. If it's a different railroad, they would have to file an application for authority to construct and operate.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 Ms. MOLINARI. And then what happens?
Ms. KITAY. And then the board would consider that. I think it would probably be granted.
Our position has always been that continued rail service takes priority.
Ms. MOLINARI. OK. I appreciate that. Thank you very much.
Let me just ask one more question, then. Going through your summary of the board's role, and that basically the agency doesn't judge the merits of the proposed trail use, which you've made very clear, haven't you created a situation or we created the situation where the railroad really gets to select what lines it's going to abandon outright and which it will not, possibly based on other than public good circumstances?
Mr. KING. That is a requirement of the statute, and we don't have any discretion whatsoever. If the provisions of the statute are in place there, we have to grant the condition. We have no authority to determine whether it's desirable or not desirable.
Ms. MOLINARI. I appreciate that. I just wanted to make that clear for the record.
I think that is it for this panel of witnesses. Again, we reiterate our request that we keep the hearing record open so that we could submit questions for you to answer in writing so that we can let you go.
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We are now being called for a series of votes, which meansand I hate to do this to you, but we are going to be absent for about a half hour, so if I can ask our next panel to please relax, make themselves comfortable, find themselves a cup of coffee around here, and we'll be back as soon as we can. We appreciate that.
Mrs. KELLY [assuming Chair]. Again, we apologize for the delay. Thank you very much for you and your assistance for waiting.
At this point we'd like to take the statement of Mr. Anthony Kane, executive director of the Federal Highway Administration.
TESTIMONY OF ANTHONY R. KANE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FEDERAL HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION, U.S. DEPARTMENT TRANSPORTATION
Mr. KANE. Thank you. Good afternoon, Madam Chairwoman, Congressman Wise.
What I would like to do is submit the full statement for the record and go through a short statement now, if that's fine with you.
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First, let me just say that the Department of Transportation clearly supports railbanking, preserving scarce transportation land resources for future transportation uses, including interim pedestrian and bicycle use. We feel it is extremely sound transportation and land use planning.
Since my colleague, Dan King, covered the Surface Transportation Board issues dealing with the railbanking statute itself, I'll focus on transportation funding.
Transportation decision-making I believe has truly evolved with the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, and consideration of alternative modes of transportation, including walking and bicycling, I believe is now the norm and at least advancing in both Statewide and multi-modal planning.
In fact, those planning requirements that are comprehensive and multi-modal are pre-requisites for any Federal funding.
ISTEA not only broadened the decision-making process by bringing more people to the table, but also broadened the eligibility of the Federal aid highway programs in terms of the kinds of projects that we can advance and work with, including rails to trails projects.
Significant Federal aid funding has been applied to pedestrian and bicycle projects, including rails to trails in recent years.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 If we go back to the 1970s and 1980s, pre-ISTEA, we only had about $5 million a year that was advanced using Federal aid for pedestrian and bicycle projects, including anything that might have been in the trail area.
In the first 4 years of ISTEA, over $140 million has been used for just rails to trails projects in virtually every State in the Nation.
With regard to rails to trails investments, a variety of Federal-aid funding categories may be used. The ones that have been primarily used by the States include the Surface Transportation (ISTP) enhancement set-aside program's. That overall program is $400 million a year. A significant amount of it goes to bicycle and pedestrian projects and rails to trails projects.
The second is the Surface Transportation Program itself, the general categories of the STP program.
Third is the congestion mitigation and air quality improvement program, (CMAQ) which is a $1 billion a year program.
Last is the national recreational trails funding program.
Of the close to $900 million in total obligations of enhancement funds through fiscal year 1995, about 15 percent or $133 million has been obligated by 47 States, D.C., and Puerto Rico for more than 380 rails to trails projects, and another 36 percent, or $319 million, has been obligated for other bicycle and pedestrian projects.
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With regard to general Surface Transportation Program funds other than enhancements, at least $30 million more in bicycle and pedestrian projects, including trail projects, have been obligated.
For the CMAQ program, we estimate about $6.3 million has been obligated for 19 rail trail projects, including nine in New York statefor example, a bicycle and pedestrian trail along the Old Putnam Division Railroad in Westchester and Putnam Counties.
Funding for the national recreational trails program was authorized in ISTEA, but without contract authority, and so it needed annual appropriations in order to be funded. Only in fiscal year 1993 was there funding appropriated through the annual appropriation process totaling $7.5 million.
The National Highway System legislation recently enacted has corrected that by allowing in 1996 and 1997 administrative funds of the Federal Highway Administration at the rate of $15 million for each of those 2 years to be used for that program.
The various rails to trails projects emanating from all of these various Federal aid funding categories we believe have greatly enhanced the recreational and transportation alternatives for the communities they are in. They have enhanced the environment, fostered pride and cohesiveness in areas in danger of losing a sense of community, provided real alternative transportation choices, including new links to transit, neighborhoods, and shopping centers, and other retail areas, and in several cases documented increase in business revenues and sales because of the trails being in those locations.
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I might note that eliminating conflicts between motorized and unmotorized travel is clearly a major benefit. Fatalities on the highways in this country are climbing, over 41,000 fatalities in the past year. About 15 percent of all highway fatalities are bicycle and pedestrian relatedover 6,000 fatalities a year.
We of course are exploring anything we can do to enhance the safety of the traveling publicand by providing trails we clearly do that. We work at that very, very important problem where over 6,000 fatalities a year are bicycle riders and pedestrians.
I might add, as well, that while railbanking is important, estimates are that over 90 percent of the projects that have been launched in the rails to trails areas are outside the railbanking statute, so projects are funded from a number of sources, such as the Federal-aid funding I described, other State and local resources, and other private resources.
I believe we can clearly see the benefit right here. Mr. Oberstar mentioned the trail he used, the Washington and Old Dominion in Virginia. We also have the Capital Crescent Trail from Bethesda to Georgetown, D.C., and possibly a future trail from Union Station to Silver Spring that's being looked at and explored. In fact, if we get that and combine it with the Crescent, we might have a pedestrian and bicycle beltway to go along with the motorized beltway in this area.
In closing, the U.S. Department of Transportation fully supports efforts to increase bicycle and walking efforts as alternative means of transportation. Secretary Peña has delivered a report to Congress and established a national goal of trying to double the amount of pedestrian and bicycle travel in this country, which at the time of the report in 1994 was about 8 percent of total transportation use.
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We will continue to encourage concepts such as rails to trails and other efforts to increase use of other alternatives to motorized transportation.
Thank you, Madam Chairwoman. I'm happy to answer to any questions.
Ms. MOLINARI [resuming Chair]. Thank you very much, Mr. Kane.
Before we begin the questions, I'd like to state that Mr. Shuster has a statement that he'd like to be made a part of the record.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Shuster follows:]
Ms. MOLINARI. Let me ask you, one of statements that you made has to do with the fact that aboutyou used the number 90 percent of the rails to trails conversion was not used using railbanking. Why is that? Is that because there are private sources out there that initiate, or because we need to make some changes in the act and it's too cumbersome?
I was floored when I saw how high that number is.
Mr. KANE. That's a very good question. In fact, I'd like to try to do a further response for the record on that.
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Ms. MOLINARI. Sure.
Mr. KANE. I'm not really sure. I do know that there were certainly lots of trackage that was either in private hands already or they had gone through abandonment and hadn't been thought of for rail use at that time. They were part of State properties after abandonment, and alternative sources became available. I think ISTEA both spurred an interest and created eligibilities.
But whether it was problems just with the railbanking statute, I'm not sure. I think there has just been greater awareness of alternative means of transportation. ISTEA certainly made that more obvious. I think lots of abandonment happened before looking at those alternatives like banking.
Ms. MOLINARI. I would appreciate it if you could.
Mr. KANE. Sure.
Ms. MOLINARI. That sounds like a very reasonable explanation, but because the number is so high and we're taking the time to reevaluate this statute
Mr. KANE. We will do that.
Ms. MOLINARI. I'd like to see if there is any way we could make these procedures more amenable if that is the problem.
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Mr. KANE. I'll do that.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you.
[The information received follows:]
Ms. MOLINARI. Mr. Wise?
Mr. WISE. Following up on your question, Madam Chair, there is ais there a significance in the future because of that distinction whether or not a trail is rail banked? What are the implications in the future, particularly for possible reconversion to rail use?
Mr. KANE. Well, there has certainly been reconversion. I think the statistics aren't showing that there has been a significant amount of reconversion, but certainly the trails we've been involved with you could potentially not deal with just an interim question because they haven't been ones that have been rail banked, although our participation is available for both casesI mean our funds have been utilized in both situations, so we're involved clearly in Federal funding in cases where there was railbanking, as well as where there wasn't.
But even where there wasn't, you still have potentials in those corridors for transportation coming back. It could be other than walking or bicycling transportation, whether it be light rail or more conventional rail or even potential special purpose bus routes. So there is still potential for future transportation uses, even in the non-rail bank cases.
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I think our thought is just that preserving corridors for transportation use, whether it be motorized or not, just makes sense with the difficulty you have today, particularly within urban areas, of ever trying to amass any land in the future.
Mr. WISE. Switching a little bit, you note that some States have been relatively slow to obligate transportation enhancement funds in the early years of ISTEA. What consequences is that going to have for the spending patterns as we approach the end of the ISTEA authorization period?
Mr. KANE. Well, I think there are a few ways of looking at it. I like to look positively at things in that the enhancement program was a brand new program and at the end of 1995 we had obligated about 55 percent of the funds that had been authorized through 1995, so that, starting from a brand new program, and in the early couple of years having obligated almost nothing to have gotten to a 55 percent point by 1995 I think could be looked at very positively.
Plus, it was a program where the State DOTs weren't programming the dollars in the usual way. They were bringing in lots of new partners, lots of new players. Most have set up elaborate mechanisms to get input from local communities, from historic groups, from recreational groups, non-traditional partners. That adds to the time involved in decisionmaking.
The biggest issueand I meet with a lot of State DOTsis that it is a zero sum gain. There has not been obligation authority equal to total apportionments under all the categories of funds, so States have been limited in how much they can spend, in total, of all the various apportioned categories. So to spend more enhancement money, it means you have to spend less bridge money or less interstate maintenance money or less National Highway System money because it's a zero sum gain. You're bound by an obligation ceiling that's lower than the total apportionments.
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That being the case, and because it was a brand new program, I'd like to look positively and say I think we've really come a long way with the enhancement program, and even having only obligated 55 percent through 1995, the States that were opposed to it in the beginning have now seen the good that has come from it, and the new partners that have been involved within it.
So I think we can certainly show a record that would bode well if the committee and the Congress feels the importance of keeping such a program in the future.
I think you have to be conscious of the fact that we had an obligation ceiling that was lower than the sum of all the apportionments, so we can't get increased enhancement expenditures without getting decreased bridge program or interstate maintenance or National Highway System.
Mr. WISE. Mr. Kane, I just have one suggestion. If youI hope that thisyou mentioned a third possible rails to trails project going to Silver Spring. Could we refer to it as something other than a beltway?
Mr. KANE. Absolutely. I was doing that in a positive sense. I'm sorry it came across in a negative sense.
Mr. WISE. The last thing we need is one more beltway around this place.
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Mr. KANE. It's the Washington Trail. That's what it is. But it will connect, if plans to develop the trail are implemented with the Crescent Trail, so you'll have more of a loop.
We'll take whatever name you suggest.
Ms. MOLINARI. We'll have a contest here on Capitol Hill.
Before I go to Mr. Oberstar, let me ask you one more quick question.
What standards does your department have to apply if you are reviewing an application to take the trails back to rails?
Mr. KANE. Good question. With regard to DOT's specific role, I'll have to answer that for the record.
Ms. MOLINARI. Okay. I'd appreciate that. And specifically I'm referring to, if you could address a letter that was brought to our attention that I'd like to make a part of the record that was signed by Secretary Peña to Governor Voinovichand I'll give you a copy of this before you leavewhich talked about eligibility being based on a corridor having to revert back using a non-motorized function in addition to, and that seems to complicate, in my mind, what may have been Congressional intent or my understanding of Congressional intent.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 I'll give you a copy of the letter.
Mr. KANE. I'm not sure where that particular case was. The recreational trails program has requirements of certain amount of the money for motorized, a certain amount for non-motorized, and certain amount for mixed use, and I don't know if that was part of the issue in that case.
Ms. MOLINARI. I think it was specifically ISTEA.
Mr. KANE. I will look at it.
Ms. MOLINARI. I'll have your staff pick up that, and if you could respond directly to that I'd appreciate that.
Mr. KANE. Absolutely.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you, Mr. Kane.
[The information received follows:]
Ms. MOLINARI. Mr. Oberstar?
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
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I want to compliment you, Mr. Kane, on your administration of the program.
Mr. KANE. Thank you.
Mr. OBERSTAR. And on the great progress that has been made.
Mr. KANE. There is great staff in the agency, some of whom are sitting here, on that program.
Mr. OBERSTAR. There is no doubt in my mind about that. Someone has to get the credit up front, or the heat when things don't go right, so that's why you get paid the big bucks.
Mr. OBERSTAR. But in the first 2 or 3 years I know the enhancements program started slowly. States weren't quite onto it. They didn't know quite how to handle this, what to do with it. They figured it out, and you have helped them do that. I know in our State of Minnesota it has some wonderful results. The stone arch bridge in Minneapolis on Nicollet Island, and the Nicollet Island Trail and restoration that has taken place has literally transformed this area, restored remarkable historical treasures, restored scenic beauty, and attracted new businesses to the area. It has simply revitalized a rather decaying part of Minneapolis and the history of the city.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 That's not in my District, but I treasure it every bit as much.
We have several railroad right-of-ways in the Eighth Congressional District that are being converted to trails, and notably the Soo Line Railroad Trail that goes through Chisago County, actually, part of Pine CountyChisago County, and then down into Ramsey County and into St. Paul.
I was hoping that I'd be able to bike that trail this fall, but they're not quite ready to do that. We're looking forward to opening.
Mr. KANE. We'll talk to them and try to encourage them to work harder.
Mr. OBERSTAR. But overall, when you look at the Washington and Old Dominion Trail, is has over two million users a year. The Baltimore Annapolis Trailwhich some day I hope to bike, as wellI think has over a million users.
The State of Michigan, with the largest number of open trails and second-largest number of milesover 1,024. Our colleague, Mr. Ehlers, very enthusiastically referred to our neighboring State of Wisconsin with 1,096 miles. Minnesota is lagging behind at 941, but with the opening of the Soo line that will get us over 1,000 miles.
These are great treasures that are preserved, preserving a very important part of American history, the railroad era. I would just encourage you to, as you work with the States, to do as the W&OD has done. With each of these trails, provide a history of railroading and what is has meant to the economy and to the lifestyle of people and what it means today in the new, more aerobic lifestyle that Americans are enjoying and participating in.
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As I said at the outset of the hearing, if you go out on any one of these trails, you find people rollerblading, bicycling, hiking, jogging. It's a wonderful thing to see. People are going to live healthier and longer and better because of what we've done with these conversions. And we're preserving for that time when oil runs out. Believe me, the day will come that we will have a possibility of returning the use of those railroad grade beds to rail purposes.
Mr. KANE. I fully agree, and particularly the fact that you don't want to preclude future uses, and the rails to trails program is really important for those.
In enhancement program, over 50 percent of the money has been used in two of the ten categoriesthat's rails to trails and bicycle and pedestrian ways. Those two have clearly been the strongest users, if you will, of the funding.
Your comment about interpretive centers or having messages is a good one, and what we're trying to do is share good examples that are taking place in one State with other States. We partially do that through conferences and publications, and we'll continue to do that to really share the word on the program.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Keep up the good work. Thank you.
Mr. KANE. Thank you.
Ms. MOLINARI. Mr. Kane, if I may ask two more quick questions, do you take a more probative position than the Surface Transportation Board does when analyzing and getting involved in these trails vis a vis their ability to be converted back? Does that have anydoes that figure in as a criteria?
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Mr. KANE. I'll probably tie that back in with responding on the earlier one you mentioned with our role on the conversion back. I believe their role is stronger. Our role is certainly a consultative one with regard to use, butI'll fold that back in with the earlier one you had asked.
Ms. MOLINARI. I'd appreciate that.
Mr. KANE. I'll do that.
Ms. MOLINARI. This is all new to me, too, and I'm not sure I understand the jurisdiction.
Mr. KANE. Right.
Ms. MOLINARI. And the criteria, if any, that is used on your part.
Mr. KANE. I'll do that.
[The information received follows:]
Ms. MOLINARI. Lastly, just very quickly, at the end of your testimony you noted that 8 percent of all trips are made by cycling and walking. Are those commuting trips, business trips, or just general?
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Mr. KANE. Transportation-defined trips, so they could be commuting, they could be shopping, they could be a variety of thingstransportation really is trips. It comes from our national personal transportation study that we do with the Census Bureau every 5 years.
We are in the process of trying to get an update on that right now to see whether we have an increase in bicycling and walking. It's primarily transportation related trips.
Ms. MOLINARI. It's transportation related, though, so it's not
Mr. KANE. A variety of purposes. It could be commuting ones and
Ms. MOLINARI. But not just exercise?
Mr. KANE. Right.
Ms. MOLINARI. It's getting somebody that would normally be doing something else?
Mr. KANE. Correct. We certainly encourage that.
Ms. MOLINARI. I understand.
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Mr. KANE. But on transportation, itself
Ms. MOLINARI. Well, that makes the 8 percent a much bigger number, a much bigger deal.
I appreciate that. Thank you very much. Again, to all of you, thank you very much to our staffs here who stayed throughout. We appreciate that, also.
We look forward to your response to our questions, Mr. Kane.
Mr. KANE. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you all very much.
[Whereupon, at 5:21 p.m., the subcommittee was adjourned, to reconvene at the call of the Chair.]
Next Hearing Segment(2)