Paul Yarossi: Guest 0pinion
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
According to the Federal Highway Administration, 17.2 percent of all bridges in Colorado are either “structurally deficient” (598 bridges) or “functionally obsolete” (861 bridges).
As the debate over jobs and funding drags on, it has occurred to me as a transportation professional that we need to change our position on the subject of maintaining and improving our nation’s infrastructure. It’s painfully clear that our transportation inventory is aging, and our country needs to be more resilient against natural and man-made disasters.
We know globalization is driving a need for better intermodal connections to encourage trade – that our economy is challenged and job creation is paramount – and we must meet these demands or fall behind. Until recently, our arguments for funding transportation have necessarily centered solely on all of these critical needs. Our industry has centered the discussion on what the American people won’t have without action by our political leaders.
While this funding uncertainty has caused many state transportation departments to postpone or cancel vital projects and related jobs, our message has yet to motivate politicians to compromise on a multi-year reauthorization bill. Recent activity by the House and Senate to move a transportation bill forward is encouraging. However, that movement is tempered by recent appropriation activities that reduce last year’s funding to states by $2 billion, putting 50,000 to 70,000 jobs in jeopardy.
Rather than sending distress calls, we need to emphasize and illustrate infrastructure’s return on investment. Return on investment is something everyone understands and values.
The historic precedent and constitutional mandate is clear – meeting our nation’s infrastructure needs is foremost to our interstate commerce, safety, security and global competitiveness. Our best-regarded presidents supported infrastructure and fully understood its return on investment.
From George Washington’s survey for the first proposed national road from Maryland to Indiana (similar to today’s Interstate 70) to Thomas Jefferson’s efforts to develop the nation’s early canals, to Abraham Lincoln’s support of the transcontinental railroad, our greatest political leaders understood that a strong infrastructure promotes a more nimble military, creates jobs, sparks the economy and advances America’s competitiveness in the global marketplace.
Contemporary presidents also were infrastructure proponents. President Eisenhower signed legislation enabling the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, the origin of today’s U.S. Interstate Highway System. President Reagan signed the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982, and both he and President Clinton increased the gas tax as part of the Highway Trust Fund. All three presidents saw the need to fund transportation, and their administrations moved the U.S. economy in a positive direction.
Our elected officials, and all Americans, can help shape the nation’s transportation future and contribute to our nation’s prosperity. Congress has the opportunity to move our transportation infrastructure program forward with a new, multimodal transportation plan for highways, rail, air and water.
Healthy infrastructure supports a healthy economy, attracting new employers and improving the overall quality of life in our communities. We consistently see paybacks along the roads, rails and bridges that get us to our workplaces, schools and other destinations. These dividends – safe, secure, efficient transportation – pay us back in our day-to-day lives well in excess of every dollar we invest. Moody’s estimates every additional dollar spent on infrastructure generates a $1.44 increase in gross domestic product.
For these reasons alone, the transportation industry should not accept fewer federal dollars, and the American public should not accept further deterioration of the infrastructure it relies on. It is proven that people are willing to pay when they know what they will get in return. In fact, more than 70 percent of local infrastructure funding has passed in the last five years. Congress needs to hear this.
In an era of limited resources, the demand for true infrastructure investment remains high. It’s time to bring all forms of funding, financing and technology-based tools to the table. It’s time to change how we plan and deliver infrastructure projects. It’s time to change the conversation – and keep moving forward, working diligently, until we achieve our goal: to keep America safe, mobile and economically competitive. End of conversation.
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