The Republican Case for Infrastructure Investment - View from the Hill
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SECTION: View from the Hill

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The Republican Case for Infrastructure Investment

By Senator James Inhofe (R-OK)

Article Date: 03-01-2010
Copyright(C) 2010 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

Funding alternatives must be explored to improve the nation’s surface transportation system, which critically impacts the nation’s economy.

When President Dwight D. Eisenhower first conceived the Interstate System more than 50 years ago, he envisioned a system to connect the nation and enhance national defense. The enormous economic benefits provided by the system were not fully understood for some time.
Today, however, the link between a robust economy and a strong transportation infrastructure is undeniable. For example, our nation’s roads and bridges move close to $40 billion worth of goods daily. That number would be higher, but congestion costs our nation $87 billion annually, according to the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI). If we don’t take dramatic action to improve our transportation infrastructure system, growing congestion and deteriorating pavement conditions will choke the U.S. economy.
As we move toward reauthorization of our surface transportation programs, we must recognize that our nation’s transportation needs have outgrown our current transportation policy. Simply tinkering around the edges of current programs and policies is not an option. We must be bold in refocusing our limited resources to our nation’s greatest needs.
This reauthorization is the time to address several complex policy questions. First, we must determine the fundamental missions of the federal program. I am a firm believer in a national transportation system, but I think our current federal-aid program tries to be all things to all people. I would argue there is no more essential federal role in transportation than to address the needs that affect the vitality of our interstate commerce and our economy as a whole. It is critical that we explore new ideas of how to improve freight movement and reliability. On the other hand, we must seriously reconsider the federal government’s role in continuing to support many of the nonessential activities added to the program over the years.
Next, we must ensure that American motorists receive a full and effective return on the fuel taxes they pay into the Highway Trust Fund. This may include establishing performance goals and ways to measure progress toward those goals. It certainly includes ensuring that transportation projects are not needlessly delayed, and therefore made more costly, by required environmental reviews. Too often, the environmental review process is used as the means to slow or stop projects, not based on substantive environmental grounds but rather simply because selected individuals oppose the projects. We need to reduce the ability of these not-in-my-backyard interests to continue to manipulate federal law this way.
Finally, but possibly most important, we must address funding issues. It is clear that current funding levels are not sufficient, as evidenced by DOT’s estimate that the backlog of needed projects to simply maintain the current highway and bridge network is $495 billion and growing.
As Congress begins to re-evaluate the appropriate federal role, we must determine how to pay for that federal share. In particular, as vehicles become more fuel efficient, the existing funding model of paying per gallon of fuel will not be effective. We need to explore numerous alternative financing mechanisms, because no single option will provide a complete solution. We must be willing to explore new options, including expanded use of public-private partnerships; tolling; congestion pricing; and requiring all users, not just highway users, to contribute to the Trust Fund.
The needs of our surface transportation system and the system’s importance to our national economy demand our immediate and focused attention. I look forward to continuing to work with groups like Associated Equipment Distributors, with my colleagues in Congress, as well as with the Obama Administration, to craft a reauthorization bill that brings focus to the federal program and ensures a system that will continue to provide the basis for economic growth.

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