A New Vision for Transportation By Rep. John Mica
Article Date: 11-01-2008
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It's time for a long-range plan.
Editor’s Note: Every other month, AED invites members of Congress and other important players in the policy process to speak directly to CED readers through this column. This month’s columnist is Rep. John Mica (R-FL-7), ranking member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Serving his eighth term in the House, Rep. Mica has been a supporter of increased investment in our nation’s surface transportation infrastructure. As the reauthorization of the federal highway program looms in 2009, Rep. Mica shares his thoughts on the future of our nation’s highway transportation system.On July 12, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower asked Vice President Richard Nixon to appear on his behalf at the Governors’ Conference at Lake George, N.Y. At this conference Nixon delivered President Eisenhower’s revolutionary vision for the Interstate Highway System.In his speech, Nixon described the state of our nation’s transportation system as “inadequate locally, and obsolete as a national system.” Nixon laid out a bold prescription, calling for a “grand plan for a properly articulated system that solves the problems of speedy, safe, transcontinental travel.” Noting that meeting our infrastructure needs would not be cheap, he nevertheless declared that the penalties
suffered “warrant the expenditures of billions to correct them.”The situation today is no different. Every mode of our transportation system is woefully underfunded: The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the U.S. needs to invest $1.6 trillion in federal, state,
and local funds over the next five years to improve our nation’s infrastructure so that it meets the needs
of our current population.Every mode of our transportation system is unable to keep up with capacity demands. Highway infrastructure, as defined by the number of available highway miles, increased only 1.97 percent between 1980 and 2000. Yet over this same timeframe travel in passenger cars grew by 50 percent, and the number of miles that trucks traveled increased 95 percent. In order to maintain the existing level of transit service an additional 26,000 buses and 5,500 rail vehicles would need to be purchased over the next 20 years. The amount of freight moving through our nation’s 10 largest ports is expected to grow by more than 370 percent in the next 20 years.As Congress works to authorize the federal surface transportation programs next year we need a strategic vision for solving our nation’s transportation problems that is as creative and innovative as President Eisenhower’s vision for the Interstate Highway System was in the 1950s. This is why I am calling for the creation of a National Strategic Transportation Plan that will provide a long-range vision of what our nation’s transportation system will look like in 20 years.The foundation is already in place for the creation of such a plan. States are already required to produce 20-year plans for highways and public transportation. We need to expand the existing 20-year transportation planning requirements to include all modes of transportation and require that state plans address critical inefficiencies in the transportation system. Using these new long-range state transportation plans as a base, we can identify specific projects that have regional and national impacts and create a National Strategic Transportation Plan that will provide a structure for how to best utilize federal transportation dollars.Transportation is the backbone of our nation’s economy. The “just-in-time” delivery business model has been incorporated into almost every sector of the economy. Without a reliable and competitive transportation system we will lose the competitive advantage that we currently have in the global economy. India and China are both involved in one of the largest infrastructure building campaigns that the world has ever seen. If we are to maintain our place at the top of the global economy we need to think outside the box, as Eisenhower did 50 years ago.As we work to reauthorize the surface transportation programs next year, it is extremely important for members of Congress to hear from people “outside the Capital Beltway” that investing in our nation’s transportation infrastructure is a top priority. I welcome AED’s involvement in this and look forward to working with them and other stakeholders in the months ahead.
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