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Reconnecting America CEO Testifies Before House Committee

Today, John Robert Smith, president and CEO of Reconnecting America, testified before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, representing the Transportation for America coalition. Co-founded by Reconnecting America, the Transportation for America coalition consists of housing, business, environmental, public health, transportation, equitable development, and other organizations who are all seeking to align our national, state, and local transportation policies with an array of issues like economic opportunity, energy security, health, housing and community development.

 Here are highlights of what he told the committee: 

Before I came to Washington almost two years ago, I was a former 16-year Republican mayor in my hometown of Meridian, Mississippi. Meridian is a small city of 40,000 that serves as a regional draw for 11 counties. As Mayor, I witnessed firsthand the transportation challenges facing those who live in small towns and rural America. 

It may come as a surprise to some, but Americans who live in small towns have the same transportation needs as those that live in big cities. They need access to their jobs, healthcare, education and services. Long commutes, rising gas prices, and shifting demographics all impact the prosperity of these communities and the people that live in them. Regional, intermodal transportation connections are critical. Many small towns and rural areas lack the financial resources, planning capacity, or authority to implement solutions to their transportation needs. A bold new policy is needed at the federal level with significant input from the state and local levels to meet those needs. 

Transportation for America does recognize it is important to fix America’s crumbling transportation infrastructure. We are, in fact, today releasing a report on the state of disrepair of our nation’s bridges. … 

In addition to repairing our nation’s infrastructure, we need to focus on transportation options that provide choices for people in this era of rising gas prices. Many aging baby boomers and veterans in small towns and rural areas depend on public transit to see the doctor or go to the grocery store. Working parents need to get to their jobs, get their children from daycare and complete their errands in a timely manner. And college students need access to local higher ed institutions and their part-time jobs they hold down as well. 

Additionally, there is the quality of life that transit options provide. When I came to Washington, D.C. almost two years ago, I realized as I heard this new word, livability, that that was just what we were doing in Meridian. The transit connections and ensuing economic development that occurred in my sixteen years as Mayor were empowering people to make decisions without being hindered by distance and gas prices. You can put whatever label on it you want – but people should be able to live where they want to live, work where they want to work, and get there in a cost-efficient and timely manner. 

Providing transit options not only provides a better quality-of-life for people, it leads to increased investment in towns that often are on the downslide. I saw this firsthand in Meridian. A public-private investment turned our historic train station into the South’s first multimodal transportation center and proved to be a catalyst for transforming our main street, increasing public transportation ridership, and helping to generate millions of dollars in private economic development in the surrounding neighborhoods. Historic buildings were renovated, people came back downtown to both live and work, and also for entertainment and our city center was revived, not only for residents but also for those that lived in the surrounding 11 county region. …

To conclude, small cities and towns in rural states are part of a national transportation system and people that live in them have the same concerns as their neighbors in big cities. Investing in transportation choices in urban and rural areas will lead to a better quality of life for all Americans and increased economic development to benefit all our citizens. Thank you for allowing me to testify and I welcome any oral or written questions.

His full remarks are available here.

John Robert Smith also submitted extended written testimony, which is available here.