A Multitude of Missed Opportunities
By Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.)
History will probably regard the disappointing record of the 111th Congress on issues of transportation and infrastructure as a litany of missed opportunities.
Our nation’s infrastructure, once the envy of the world, is rapidly falling into disrepair. These very real problems threaten our economic security and our way of life. The American Society of Civil Engineers Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gives America’s infrastructure a D grade and our roads a near failing D-. This is simply unacceptable.
Crippling congestion and poor roads cost businesses and commuters almost $90 billion a year in wasted time and fuel. Americans spend more than 4 billion hours per year stuck in traffic. One-third of America’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition and 45 percent of major urban highways are congested. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the federal government needs to invest a minimum of $62 billion per year just to maintain our roads and bridges in their present condition. Our current annual level of investment is less than two-thirds of that amount.
Addressing these challenges requires leadership and vision that has unfortunately been sorely lacking in Washington. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act represented an unprecedented opportunity to truly invest in our nation’s infrastructure needs, create hundreds of thousands of jobs and contribute to a long-term economic revival.
However, less than 8 percent of the nearly trillion dollars spent on the stimulus was actually dedicated to roads and bridges. Despite promises from President Barack Obama to include a significant investment in the highway system, the stimulus provided a paltry $30 billion towards roads and bridges, most of which has been used for short-term repaving and maintenance projects and not much needed capacity improvements.
Instead of making a serious investment in infrastructure, where every $1 billion creates or sustains roughly 30,000 jobs, the stimulus provided a grab-bag of big government social spending that has done little to nothing to stimulate the economy or address our infrastructure crisis.
While I was encouraged the stimulus promised $8 billion designated for expanded passenger rail service, even this opportunity has been squandered. Instead of focusing on key corridors, scare federal dollars were spread too thin among too many rail projects, leading to incremental progress that could slow our already delayed entrance into high-speed rail. Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity was the failure to invest in the Northeast Corridor, which, for the most part, was kept out of the selection process. Failing to invest in the critical Northeast Corridor will insure continued congestion in our nation’s most densely populated region.
Finally, the failure to pass a long-term surface transportation bill has resulted in massive uncertainly to states, which must plan critical projects years in advance, and to the construction industry, which has been unable to invest, hire new employees, or purchase equipment, sending ripples through the economy. While Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) and Ranking Member John Mica (R-Fla.) have shown leadership on this issue in the House, President Obama, the Senate and the Department of Transportation have been content to delay any action until next year. These delays only further exacerbate the problems we are facing as a nation and will require even more difficult choices when action finally occurs.
These delays have serious consequences to our aging transportation system as well as the construction, engineering and materials industries that could flourish if the government invested in our roads and bridges.
We must not and cannot wait for another tragedy like the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, Minn., to occur before our leaders focus on these vital issues. The time for missed opportunities must come to an end. The time for talk and delay is over. The time to act is now.
Rep. Shuster is a member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.