By Ray LaHood
January 3, 2018
Messy commutes, dilapidated bridges and major delays are just some of the headlines that Americans have gotten used to seeing on a daily basis. Solutions to these challenges are within our grasp, but it’s going to take both parties and both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue working together to make the hard choices.
Infrastructure investment creates good-paying jobs and long-term growth. But for too long, current and past administrations and Congresses have failed to pass a comprehensive infrastructure package with long-term, sustainable funding. All the while, our infrastructure continues to fall into disrepair and our country comes closer to losing its competitive edge.
Our roadways are critical to local economies and quality of life. However, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, 2 out of every 5 miles of urban interstates are congested. The consequences go well beyond safety, costing drivers $960 a year in the form of lost time, wasted fuel and even car repairs. Our nation’s bridges are not in much better shape. With nearly 4 out of every 10 built before the moon landing, our nation’s bridges are far too old and many can no longer accommodate current traffic.
Unfortunately, it’s not only the roads and bridges. It’s also the rails, tunnels and airports. Just a few weeks ago, Atlanta’s Hartsfield–Jackson Airport experienced an 11-hour power outage that paralyzed the world’s busiest airport. And on New Year’s Day, some of our nation’s biggest airports were faced with delays due to a two-hour outage in customs processing systems. It’s no wonder as America’s airports are facing nearly $100 billion in capital needs—a 32 percent increase since 2015.
Our country needs a multi-faceted approach that gets all levels of government and the private sector working together. We had that opening last year, and could have used the tax reform package to spur investment in our nation’s infrastructure. Failing to do so was a wasted opportunity and kept us from injecting much needed revenue into the Highway Trust Fund, which funds highways, bridges and mass transit programs.
However, as we start 2018, I’m still hopeful that our leaders have learned the consequences of delaying infrastructure funding and repair. Constituents everywhere are tired of potholes and transit systems that are more than 50 years old, and they’re making their voices heard. In fact, according to a Harvard-Harris poll, 84 percent of voters polled say the country needs to invest more in infrastructure. With such overwhelming support from the public, policymakers should be eager to take on these challenges.
In order to address the dire condition of our infrastructure and start creating jobs, we need a bipartisan and strategic plan that provides long-term funding.
First, we need a big pot of money and the best way to do that is to modernize the gas tax. The last time the 18.4 cent gas tax was raised was in 1993. The cost of everything has increased since 1993. Imagine trying to make ends meet in 2018 on the same salary you earned in 1993. That is the dire state of the nation’s Highway Trust Fund. Many in Congress fear the political repercussions of change, but I’d like to remind them that 24 states have raised their gas tax since 2013. Furthermore, the re-election rate of those legislators who voted to increase their state’s gas tax was 91 percent.
Second, there needs to be a strong working relationship between all levels of government. Washington must work hand-in-hand with mayors and governors to understand what they need for their communities and to grant them the flexibility to achieve those goals.
And third, our policies must be forward-looking, and the regulations need to keep up with rapidly changing technology such as driverless vehicles. The government needs to invest in transformational projects like high-speed rail, and increase the funding for projects that already work and promote innovation through competitive discretionary grants, such as the TIGER grants during the Obama administration and the Urban Partnership Agreements during the Bush Administration.
We know that the most consequential and long-lasting reforms are often bipartisan, and revitalizing our nation’s infrastructure and keeping Americans safe should not be solely a Democratic or Republican issue. Let’s resolve to make a long-term and well-funded infrastructure plan a reality in 2018. If our leaders want to put partisanship aside and start investing in our future, the options are on the table.
Ray LaHood is a former U.S. Secretary of Transportation and the current co-chair of the bipartisan advocacy group Building America’s Future.