Time is now for a bold vision for infrastructure plus bold funding
To compete on a global scale and provide our citizens with the quality of life we have come to expect, the United States must have first-rate infrastructure. This means our roads, bridges, transit, aviation, port, water, electric grid and broadband networks must be able to accommodate current and future demands.
Since leaving as secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation and as Co-Chair of Building America’s Future, I have been traveling America promoting infrastructure investments and emphasizing that years of neglect have resulted in America’s infrastructure becoming one big pothole. During the first two years of President Obama’s administration, DOT received $48 billion from the Economic Stimulus Program. As a result, we worked with governors, mayors and contractors and were able to put thousands of people to work building and resurfacing roads, bridges and aging transit systems, investing in existing passenger rail and developing a blueprint and funding for high-speed rail.
Unwillingness to make and stand by hard choices — especially when it comes to revenue — will derail any successful implementation of a new infrastructure vision. While the recent political climate in Washington has not been ideal for forging legislative compromises, infrastructure policy has long been an area ripe for finding common ground. After all, there are no Republican roads, nor are there Democratic bridges.
When it comes to infrastructure policy, the first order of business for Congress as the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee debates comprehensive tax reform, should be to draft a long-term robust and sustainably funded infrastructure plan, not another short-term bill that doesn’t even begin to cover the cost of repairing potholes. This plan should cover a 10-year time frame, identify clear national goals and set priorities for funding. Such a plan would jump-start needed infrastructure projects, revitalize the American economy and boost employment in construction and related industries.
Funding of infrastructure has been the most difficult for Congress to resolve. There are five major funding options which should receive significant discussion and debate. They include: 1. Raising the gas tax that has not been raised since 1993. It is interesting to note that President Reagan and President George H.W. Bush both raised the gas tax. Also during the past three years, 18 states have raised their own gas tax to provide the funding for deteriorating infrastructure. I have suggested raising the gas tax 10 cents a gallon and index future increases to the cost of living. 2. Encourage tolling for states to add capacity. 3. Establish an Infrastructure Bank to encourage public private partnerships. 4. Fund The TIGER and TIFIA loan programs to fund innovative and creative solutions to infrastructure problems. 5. Allow for Vehicle Miles Traveled pilot projects to determine if this program can generate funding for infrastructure.
Leadership matters! President Trump commands the bully pulpit. Leadership means having a vision to see the big picture and courage to do the right thing. To convince the American public and skeptical policymakers, it is imperative that President Trump use his political capital to push for a new vision of transportation.