Bridges to SomewhereWritten By: THOMAS J. DONOHUE
Article Date: 12-03-2007
Copyright(C) 2008 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.
Congress must stop diverting earmarked transportation funds elsewhere.
Editor's Note: CED's bimonthly "And in Washington" column provides our readers with the opportunity to hear directly from elected officials and other AED allies in Washington about major policy issues. You'd be hard-pressed to convince the American people that we don't need to spend more on infrastructure. Signs of decay are everywhere, from crumbling bridges to pothole-ridden streets to exploding manhole covers and underground steam pipes.
There are three things we must do to ensure that our nation has a superior physical platform capable of serving a growing economy: Stop diverting dedicated transportation funds to wasteful or unrelated projects; unleash private infrastructure investment by removing regulatory impediments; and invest more federal, state and local dollars in infrastructure.
Taxpayers would be outraged to learn how much of the money they pay in user fees for roads, the aviation system and other transportation systems is diverted to "bridges to nowhere" or noninfrastructure projects such as childhood obesity programs and rainforest museums in Iowa.
The current five-year, $286 billion highway bill sets aside about 8 percent of all funds for earmarks. The number of these earmarks has ballooned from 101 in 1981 to 6,371 in 2005. Politicians should be penalized when they skim money from dedicated transportation funds to finance projects of their choosing. It breaks trust with the taxpayers.
Congress must also work with the states to ensure that infrastructure funding goes to the highest-priority projects yielding the greatest economic and safety benefits to the nation. There is no mechanism in place to do this now.
Yet even if we spent every dime of infrastructure funding on its intended purpose, and we should, we still wouldn't have enough to bring our system up to par, much less to expand it. The widely respected American Society of Civil Engineers says we will need to spend $1.6 trillion over the next five years to bring our infrastructure systems - roads, bridges, aviation, energy, ports, inland waterways and other facilities - to good condition.
We can start by unlocking potentially hundreds of billions of dollars in private investment just waiting to be spent on infrastructure. The money is there if government regulators would get out of the way. Countries around the world use an array of innovative financing approaches and public-private partnerships to bring key projects on line quickly. It's about time America did the same.
There must also be a significant increase in government funding for infrastructure, which means we will have to consider an increase in the federal gasoline user fee - provided the proceeds are dedicated to transportation and other infrastructure.
In return for making these investments, we will save lives, create American jobs and set the foundation for a more robust, productive, globally competitive economy.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, along with AED, is actively engaged in the Americans for Transportation Mobility (ATM) coalition. This national coalition of transportation users and providers works to ensure adequate investment in a safe, reliable and efficient transportation infrastructure system by educating and mobilizing businesses, Congress and the general public.
Members of the ATM's management committee meet regularly with members of Congress to exchange ideas, discuss probable solutions to the infrastructure crisis, and propose legislation. AED recently coordinated a meeting with the House of Representatives Blue Dog Coalition where we discussed pressing infrastructure issues, including the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund, the status of transportation appropriations, and reauthorization of SAFETEA-LU - the current surface transportation law.
In addition, the ATM coalition has commissioned a study by Cambridge Systematics that will demonstrate the link between transportation infrastructure capacity and the United States' long-term economic productivity, growth and competitiveness. The findings of this study, to be released in January 2008, will be an essential tool in our mission to educate Congress and the general public about the benefits of a strong, national infrastructure system.
The time to rebuild America's infrastructure is now. With the Chamber and AED working together with like-minded trade and labor associations, we will lead the effort to galvanize action at the local, state and federal level, so that once again our national infrastructure system is the best the world has ever known.
[ TOP ]