By Secretary Ray LaHood
Our country went through a long and divisive election, and contentious opening days of a new administration. But with the start of the new Congress and the inauguration of a new President, we have a unique opportunity and obligation to find issues of common cause that can unite our nation and help move us forward.
I say this as a former Republican congressman who worked in a Democratic President’s cabinet — and as someone who cares deeply about the future competitiveness of this country.
Revitalizing our infrastructure has a particular potential to bring us together. In the campaign, President Trump discussed this frequently, and it continues to be a top priority for his new administration. In fact, this is one cause that enjoys the support of mayors and governors, congressmen and senators, Democrats, Republicans and independents alike.
Over the years, gridlock and finger-pointing in Washington have sidelined important policy priorities. Republicans and Democrats rarely talk to one another, and Congress and the White House are frequently at loggerheads.
All the while, traffic congestion has increased, potholes have multiplied, and the condition of our roads and bridges has further deteriorated. Commuters paid the price, as did businesses trying to ship and deliver goods.
That is why I am particularly disappointed to see so many critical comments even before the new administration’s economic team unveils a specific infrastructure plan.
Enough with the potshots.
The situation is dire: America’s airports and air-traffic control system are painfully out of date, relying on World War II-era technology, and inflicting too much misery on travelers. In Flint, Mich., we all saw that neglecting the pipelines that supply our drinking water poses a severe risk to the public’s health and safety.
Just as important, technology is on the cusp of dramatically changing how we build and what we build. Driverless cars and smart cities will change urban populations. We cannot continue arguing over how to pay for a 60-year-old highway system when the world around us is changing rapidly. We should be building for the future, not just maintaining systems designed in the last century.
As former secretary of transportation, one of my top commitments was to advance a long-term infrastructure investment plan that revitalizes our roads, rails and bridges, creates jobs and promotes economic competitiveness. Years later, it still is, and I’m confident that under Secretary Elaine Chao, the future of this department will be in good hands. She knows how to navigate Washington and understands the importance of consulting mayors and governors. Put simply, she has what it takes to get something done.
Today, we have an excellent opportunity to do something big and bold for the country. We can transform the economic landscape of our nation with a visionary and long-term infrastructure plan that will fix what we have and undertake the types of projects that no single city or state could do on their own.
We should trust and challenge the mayors and governors, on a regional basis, to tell us what they need for their communities. And we should give them the flexibility to do it.
The United States did not become the world’s leading economy by accident or luck. We built our way to economic success with vision and leadership at all levels of business and government.
To help pay for a new long-term infrastructure plan, national tax reform and repatriation of overseas profits of American corporations could inject a one-time shot in the arm. But what is really needed is a sustainable revenue source for the long term. Tax credits are useful, but they will not solve the problem alone. Potential projects must be evaluated based on their economic benefits — not politics — and we must hold all levels of government accountable for delivering needed projects on time and on budget.
It is time for the United States to decide, as a nation, that we can still do big things. Let’s put an end to the Washington gridlock and pass a bold and sustainably funded long-term infrastructure plan. It is time to get to work, strike a deal and take charge of our nation’s economic success.
LaHood is a former secretary of transportation and the current co-chairman of the bipartisan advocacy group Building America’s Future.