Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, sent a letter last week to the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure urging him to reconsider the funding levels included in his bill to reauthorize federal highway and transit programs.

As currently written, the legislation would cut funding levels by nearly one-third. In California, the reduction is expected to leave the state without $1.25 billion in highway infrastructure funding and $468 million in public transportation funds, resulting in more than 61,000 lost jobs.

“A safe and efficient regional transportation network is critical to encouraging economic growth and maintaining the quality of life for families on the Central Coast,” Capps said. “Everyone — from daily commuters to small businesses — relies on an up-to-date and efficient transportation system. But instead of making the smart investments that would make important improvements in our roads, bridges and public transit systems, the Republican majority is proposing legislation that will do the opposite. This is shortsighted and will mean fewer construction jobs now and a compromised infrastructure system in the future on the Central Coast and across the country.”

The most recent multiyear highway and transit program legislation expired in September 2009, and the program has continued to operate through temporary extensions. The Republican proposal would cut federal transportation investments by $109 billion over six years for highway, highway safety, transit and rail programs.

On the Central Coast, federal investments in highway and transit programs are helping with the construction of the widening of the several portions of Highway 101, including in southern Santa Barbara County and the Santa Maria River Bridge, new transit centers in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara, and new pedestrian and bicycle paths in San Luis Obispo County.

In its 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States a “D” grade as a result of its crumbling infrastructure. More recently, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Conditions and Performance Report noted an additional $27 billion per year is needed simply to sustain highway conditions and performance and an additional $96 billion per year is needed to make all cost-beneficial highway improvements and eliminate bridge backlogs.

Additionally, America’s biggest competitors in the global marketplace are investing far more in their nation’s infrastructure. China spends 9 percent of its Gross Domestic Product per year on infrastructure investments. India spends 5 percent of its GDP on infrastructure. The United States invests 1.9 percent.

“A great country must keep up its investment in infrastructure. That’s why we built the railroads a century ago and the interstate highway system,” Capps said. “And while we do need to tighten our belts, we also need to reduce congestion, increase safety and create jobs on the Central Coast. That’s why I’m dedicated to fighting for the Central Coast’s transportation needs in Congress by passing a robust transportation bill that provides the federal investments we need to tackle our transportation challenges. That means providing federal assistance for important transportation projects, like widening portions of Highway 101 where it makes sense or building rail systems to get people to and from work faster and cheaper.”

— Ashley Schapitl is press secretary for Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara.