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Bloomberg Government: A rare moment of bipartisan agreement needs more scrutiny

By: Secretary Ray LaHood and Governor Ed Rendell 

10/4/2016

Bloomberg Government regularly publishes insights, opinion and best practices from our community of senior leaders and decision-makers. This column is written by former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. 

If you were one of the millions of Americans watching Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump debate on Monday night, it is likely that you strongly agreed with one candidate and disapproved of the other. It was also clear that there was little agreement between the candidates when it came to the array of policy issues discussed. But there was one bright spot of consensus. Both candidates did agree on the deteriorating condition of our roads, bridges and airports. Hillary Clinton spoke about how investing in infrastructure was an investment in America’s future, and Donald Trump decried the poor condition of New York’s LaGuardia Airport, likening it to something found in a Third World country.

Both candidates are correct. The numerous reports and expert commentarydetailing the worsening condition of our infrastructure are plentiful. For example, in just 10 years, the economic competitiveness of our infrastructure fell from number one in the world to number 11, according to the World Economic Forum. Increasing traffic congestion costs drivers $160 billion a year – or over $900 per driver – in wasted time and fuel.

In its recently released Failure to Act report the American Society of Civil Engineers found that the gap between what we’re spending on infrastructure and what we need to spend could cost the economy to lose almost $4 trillion in GDP in the next 10 years, resulting in a loss of 2.5 million jobs by 2025. Within the next decade, 25 of the nation’s top 30 airports will suffer the same congestion as the day before Thanksgiving at least two days each week.

It is more than just statistics, though. If you see roads riddled with potholes, or live in a community like Flint, Mich. with lead in the water, you understand the urgency of the situation. Across America, the public has consistently approved ballot measures in many cities to increase transportation spending. In many states, voters have approved Constitutional amendments that would put transportation funds in a ‘lockbox’ to make sure that those funds are invested in roads, bridges and transit, and not diverted to other programs. The private sector has done its part, too, pursuing public-private partnerships for road, rail, port, water systems and airport projects.

Despite the clear need, broad public agreement and the support from groups as varied as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO, there has been a void of leadership from policymakers in Washington. We are hopeful that this will change as both presidential candidates have said that they will make it a priority to invest in our roads, rails and other systems. And it is widely expected that whoever wins the presidency and whatever the makeup of the next Congress, a comprehensive infrastructure investment package is likely to be considered within the first 100 days. Knowing that, we hope the candidates will share their ideas in greater detail during the remaining presidential and vice presidential debates.

We would also like to see future moderators pose questions such as: What is your vision for building and improving America’s infrastructure? How will you prioritize the vast needs among roads, bridges, public transit, water systems, ports and airports? How will you use the rapid advancements in technology and driverless cars to shape our transportation network? What are your plans for reducing congestion on the roads and in the sky?  On Building America’s Future’s blog we have offered other questions that we hope will be considered by the debate moderators.

The experts and the public agree, America’s infrastructure is falling apart and falling behind.  How the next president meets this challenge is important for our economy, our economic competitiveness and our quality of life. It’s time for a deeper dive on how each of the candidates intend to pay for the investments needed to get us back to number one. Eighty-four million Americans watched the last debate, the largest number in history. Clearly they are interested and looking for answers. The upcoming presidential and vice presidential debates offer the best opportunity to put the tough questions to the candidates and get the answers we need.