While the U.S. economy struggles to emerge from the worst recession since the Great Depression, Washington is finally starting to focus on the one issue on all of our minds: getting Americans back to work.
History tells us that transportation investment could make a real difference for the short- and long-term needs of the economy, but, unfortunately, the issue is not resonating like it should with our national leaders.
In November, it was reported that unemployment has reached 10.2 percent, the highest the United States has seen in 26 years. Unfortunately, Washington continues to miss the connection that transportation investment creates jobs. Every $1 spent on transportation infrastructure projects generates an additional $1.80 of U.S. GDP. The bottom line is that investing in our nation’s transportation helps to grow our economy, and puts Americans back to work.
Some of the nation’s most famous and revered infrastructure projects were built during bleak times in our history. The Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam were both constructed during the Depression and the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System was built in the aftermath of World War II. These projects provided needed jobs and valuable infrastructure assets for a nation struggling to get back on its feet. Sound familiar?
Troubling economic times call for proven economic solutions. While we all understand that Congress and the Obama administration have a lot on their plates, the fact is the American people need lasting investments that can create jobs, grow our economy, and lift America out of this troubling economic situation.
In September, the federal programs that provide vital highway and transit investments around the country expired. The result of that expiration, coupled with the economic downturn, has created a very real crisis that has resulted in a 37 percent job loss in our construction industry. To put that in perspective, auto manufacturers and dealer jobs have fallen 16 percent in the same period.
The situation is equally grim for industries that produce material for transportation infrastructure. The aggregates industry, which processes and sells crushed stone, sand and gravel used in the construction of highways, has seen an average 20 percent decline in business; in some regions the decline has been as much as 60 percent.
Oxnard has been particularly hard-hit, with an unemployment rate estimated at or above 15 percent. It’s time to get our community members back to work. Now is the time to launch transportation projects so they are complete when our economy rebounds.
Without comprehensive transportation legislation, businesses are left to plan for an uncertain future that often results in no future at all. Manufacturing ceases, equipment sits idle, and workers are laid off.
The interstate system, over the course of its first 40 years, was responsible for an increase of approximately one-quarter of the nation’s productivity. Transportation and directly related industries accounted for more than 7 million jobs. The United States was the first industrialized nation to have a comprehensive system of roadways, and many other countries followed the U.S. model to become more competitive in the international marketplace. Congress and the Obama administration have an opportunity to take a page from the history books to help us get back to that leadership position today.
As Congress and the administration consider new efforts to stem the tide of rising unemployment, the business community stands ready to work with them to advance increased transportation investment and comprehensive transportation legislation. But Washington needs to hold up its end of the bargain and start making transportation investment the clear priority it should be.
— Nancy Lindholm is president and CEO of the Oxnard Chamber of Commerce.