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A Rough Road Ahead

May 21, 2015
EC from DC

A little over a month ago, I admit, I was angry. Now, I am just plain fed up. I am frustrated.

Once again, Congress has failed to find solutions to the urgent business facing our country, threatening hundreds of thousands of jobs and prolonging uncertainty for communities across America.

This week, Congress voted on a bill to patch the Highway Trust Fund. The fund was set to expire at the end of May, just a few days from now. Instead of taking up a proper transportation bill, we have taken the easy route. We have found a simple shortcut to avoid the work the American people sent us here to complete. We punted on this deadline.

As I shared with you a few weeks ago, we have already patched the Highway Trust Fund thirty-two times in the past six years. Now the count is at thirty-three. This is, frankly, a perennial problem for policymakers. And yet, this is a problem we can, together, fix. The bill passed, extending the patch until two months deeper into the critical summer construction season. I did not support it. In fact, I felt I could not do so. We are governing — if you can call it that at all — by extension. Instead of legislating, we are merely putting a Band-Aid on our considerable wounds. Instead of crafting policy, we are kicking the can down the road.

In spite of this looming deadline, my colleagues in the House and Senate have yet to put forward a plan to reauthorize the Trust Fund. Instead of working and taking action, Republicans have ignored the need for a long-term surface transportation bill for ten months – since the last short-term extension was passed – perpetuating perilous uncertainty and preventing states from being able to plan and budget effectively. Now, with the Highway Trust Fund set to expire in the middle of construction season, jobs across the country are being put at risk. And again, come July, we will be right back where we started.

The easiest way to maintain and improve our transportation systems would be to raise the federal gas tax, which has not been increased since 1993. Simply by raising it and indexing it to inflation, we could secure the future of the transportation bill. I have cosponsored a bill that would fix this problem. Our nation is steadfastly stuck in small, short-term patches that fail to meet the challenge of our nation’s crumbling roads and bridges – even as other nations advance their infrastructure by leaps and bounds. It is long past time for a long-term reauthorization of the Highway Trust Fund that will bring our roads, rails and bridges into the 21st century.

According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials:

  • 660,000 good paying construction jobs are hanging in the balance;
  • This needless crisis is casting uncertainty on 6,000 critical construction projects across the country.

Here’s a breakdown of what this latest manufactured crisis means for American families and businesses:

Aging Infrastructure in Need of Repair

  • 54% of our major roads are rated poor or mediocre.
  • One out of every four bridges – more than 147,000 bridges – in the United States is structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. The average age of our nation’s bridges is 42.
  • 45% of Americans don’t have access to transit.
  • Federal land management agencies need over $11 billion to address deferred maintenance needs on our roads and bridges.
  • The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates that the cost of upgrading and repairing our deteriorating bridges is $106 billion.
  • The American Society of Civil Engineers gave U.S. infrastructure an overall grade of D-.

Consequences of Congestion

  • According to the 2013 ASCE report, 42% of America’s major urban highways remain congested.
  • Congestion costs commuters $121 billion in wasted time and fuel, or an average of $818 per commuter.
  • In 2011, congestion caused urban Americans to travel 5.5 billion hours more and to purchase an extra 2.9 billion gallons of fuel.

With the clock ticking, it is time for Republicans to work with Democrats to meet our nation’s surface transportation needs and address the infrastructure backlog. If Republicans fail to act, it will deprive state transportation departments of their expected funding stream that enable them to plan ahead for highway, transit, and pedestrian projects that grow our economy, provide well-paying jobs for hardworking Americans, and encourage more businesses to invest here at home.