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Tom Donohue: Congress Must Invest in Infrastructure

If done right, transportation improvements could spur economic growth

With the 111th Congress winding down, lawmakers are focusing only on must-pass legislation required to fund the government and to extend the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. Unfortunately, some important work was left undone in the past two years. Topping the list is investment in transportation infrastructure — our nation’s economic foundation.

Tom Donohue
Tom Donohue

It wasn’t too long ago when we had the best transportation network in the world. Americans could travel quickly and safely across the country, businesses benefited from efficient supply chains and the construction industry employed thousands. In 2010, however, America’s basic infrastructure was ranked 11th globally by the World Economic Forum.

The consequences of our deteriorating infrastructure can be seen everywhere. Poor road conditions cost Americans $67 billion each year in repairs and operating costs, according to TRIP, an organization that conducts transportation research. Increasing congestion on our roadways is making it harder to keep supply chains functional. Crumbling infrastructure is even a matter of life and death — highway conditions play a role in about one-third of traffic deaths.

To keep us from falling even further behind, the 112th Congress must make completion of a highway and transit bill a top priority.

In the process, lawmakers should consider the report issued by President Barack Obama’s fiscal commission. It demonstrates how we can cut wasteful spending, grow the economy and create jobs through smart transportation investments. Recommendations include reforming the Highway Trust Fund to prioritize funding for projects based on need, limiting investments based on available funds and increasing user fees to reflect changes in how we travel.

If done right, investments in transportation infrastructure can spur economic growth. A study conducted for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that there is a direct relationship between infrastructure performance and GDP. A 1-point increase in transportation effectiveness translates into a 0.3 percent increase in GDP, or $42 billion. If we pursue business as usual, we will suffer nearly $336 billion in lost economic growth by 2015.

With the country projected to run a $1.3 trillion deficit in 2010 and Americans strapped for cash, we can’t count on tax dollars alone to pay for improvements. That’s why we need to sweep away the regulatory roadblocks that are keeping $180 billion in private infrastructure investment on the sidelines and incentivize governments to turn to the private sector.

Economic growth, jobs, and enhanced safety and mobility — what’s not to like? I strongly urge members of the 112th Congress to make rebuilding American infrastructure a top priority. Or we’ll just slip further behind.

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

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