Politics can make for strange bedfellows. Case in point: Last week I joined AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka to testify on infrastructure investment before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Trumka and I don’t agree on much, but we believe that modernizing infrastructure will create jobs and economic growth.
Our infrastructure is crumbling, and it’s past time we did something about it. Congress has an excellent opportunity this year when it reauthorizes SAFETEA-LU — the legislation that funds highway and transit projects.
Lawmakers should follow these six principles:
» First, Congress must ensure that federal transportation policy, programs and resources are oriented around national needs. Over the years, these programs began to put political expediency ahead of investments benefiting the nation as a whole. We need to refocus on investing for performance that will add to long-term economic growth.
» Second, we must adopt strategies and technologies to reduce congestion, improve mobility in urban areas and maximize the use of existing assets. The Texas Transportation Institute just updated its Urban Mobility Report, and the news isn’t good. Motorists spend $808 a year in lost time and wasted fuel.
» Third, the bill must help ensure rural connectivity. The majority of the United States’ natural and agricultural resources are located in rural areas. Congress should make investments in small communities and rural areas that will tie them to major economic and population centers.
» Fourth, Congress should develop a comprehensive freight program to ensure adequate capacity, reduce congestion and increase throughput at key highway, rail, waterway and intermodal choke points. The growth in international trade is overwhelming freight capacity, and it’s only going to get worse.
» Fifth, Congress and the administration must maximize the use of existing infrastructure and streamline project delivery for new infrastructure. Siting and permitting processes for new infrastructure create significant delays, resulting in inefficiencies across the system, increased project costs and trouble with financing.
» Finally, the bill’s underlying concern must always be safety. It is a national disgrace that nearly 34,000 Americans die on our highways every year — or 100 people every day. It’s unacceptable, and we can do more to prevent these senseless deaths.
To rebuild America, we need more than good ideas. We need money. Every option — from federal funding to private investment — must be on the table. And the money must be spent wisely.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is committed to rebuilding America and will work with anyone to advance this goal.
— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.