Remarks on Signing the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982

January 6, 1983

Today, as this bill becomes law, America ends a period of decline in her vast and world-famous transportation system. Because of the prompt and bipartisan action of Congress, we can now ensure for our children a special part of their heritage -- a network of highways and mass transit that has enabled our commerce to thrive, our country to grow, and our people to roam freely and easily to every corner of our land.

This bill was possible because of the contributions of so many Senators and Congressmen, many of whom are standing here today. Without their leadership, cooperation, and determination, this bill would never have become law.

Anyone who's driven the family car lately knows what it's like to hit a pothole -- a frustration, expense, a danger caused by poor road maintenance. Woeful tales of highway disrepair have become part of the trucking lore. Bridges are crumbling from under us in many of our older cities while growth is being stifled in our newer ones, because the transportation system can't cope with the expanding population.

Overall, we have 4,000 miles of Interstate Highway that needs resurfacing and 23,000 bridges that need replacement or repair. Our cities need new buses, new or rebuilt railcars, and track improvements that will cost $50 billion during the next 10 years. Common sense tells us that it will cost a lot less to keep the system we have in good repair than to let it disintegrate and have to start over from scratch. Clearly this program is an investment in tomorrow that we must make today. It will allow us to complete the interstate system, make most -- the interstate repairs and strengthen and improve our bridges, make all of us safer, and help our cities meet their public transit needs.

When we first built our highways, we paid for them with a gas tax, a highway user fee that charged those of us who benefited most from the system. It was a fair concept then, and it is today. But that levy has not been increased in more than 23 years. And it no longer covers expenses. The money for today's improvements will come from increasing the gas tax, or the highway user fee, by the equivalent of a nickel a gallon -- about $30 a year for most motorists.

The repairs and construction are expected to stimulate about 170,000 jobs, with an additional 150,000 jobs created in related industries. Another provision in this bill adds up to 6 weeks of unemployment benefits for people who have used up all their unemployment insurance. Such badly needed assistance will put more than half a billion dollars into the pockets of family budgets of our long-term unemployed.

While the action we take today will bring some relief to those of us who so want to work and yet cannot find jobs, its principal benefit will be to ensure that our roads and transit systems are safe, efficient, and in good repair. The state of our transportation system affects our commerce, our economy, and our future.

That's why I'm pleased today to sign House resolution 6211, the Surface Transportation Assistance Act for 1982. It will help America enter a brighter and a more prosperous decade ahead. And so saying, and before the bridges fall down, I'll get this bill signed. [Laughter]

[At this point, the President began to sign the bill.]

I don't know why it takes so much more to do the bill than it does for me to talk about it. [Laughter]

It is law.

Note: The President spoke at 9:53 a.m. at the signing ceremony in the State Dining Room at the White House.

As enacted, H.R. 6211 is Public Law 97 - 424, approved January 6.