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Tom Donohue: Congressional Approval of Highway Bill Needed to Boost Economy

On the table are reforms that would consolidate redundant programs and give states greater flexibility

Despite gridlock in Washington, lawmakers have rallied around a few key pieces of legislation that will spur job creation and economic growth — passage of free trade agreements and reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank come to mind. Congress has a chance to add to that list of accomplishments by finally passing long-term legislation to maintain our nation’s roads, bridges and transit systems.

If lawmakers do it, they’ll bring badly needed reforms to our outdated highway and transit programs, restore certainty for our nation’s job creators and create employment for workers. They can help strengthen our economy, enhance U.S. productivity and competitiveness, reduce congestion, improve the environment and save lives.

If they don’t, we’ll be stuck with yet another short-term extension and a continuation of programs everyone agrees are in need of reform. Funding and authorizing surface transportation legislation in fits and starts — which has been the practice since SAFETEA-LU expired in 2009 — have bred tremendous uncertainty that has cost American jobs.

Without long-term assurances of a strong federal funding commitment to transportation, states and local communities will be hesitant to start projects or invest in infrastructure upgrades. Meanwhile, scarce resources will continue to be wasted through a fragmented set of programs that delay projects and prevent states from addressing their most pressing needs.

If Congress continues to abdicate, our infrastructure will fall into further disrepair. And failure to keep up our infrastructure cost the U.S. economy nearly $2 trillion from 2008 to 2009.

No one disputes that modernizing America’s transportation and infrastructure is a national priority. The question is whether Congress can finally get the job done — and get it done in time.

Lawmakers have a little more than a week to find common ground and reach a final agreement on a long-term bill. On the table are reforms that would consolidate redundant programs and give states greater flexibility — improving efficiency and ensuring that money is spent more wisely. These reforms would also tackle project delays, duplicative reviews and cost overruns. They would expand public-private partnerships and encourage private investment in projects. There is strong bipartisan support in the House and Senate for this approach.

Congress and the administration can drive economic growth, create jobs, restore certainty — and maybe even start to regain the public’s confidence — if they do the right thing by demonstrating badly needed leadership to improve and modernize America’s infrastructure.

— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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