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Government Needs Big Blueprint

By the end of September, Congress must enact a multiyear reauthorization of transportation programs that will help to build this nation’s infrastructure for the 21st century.

Undertaking such a critical task without a comprehensive plan would be unthinkable. Imagine building a house or launching a business venture without a blueprint or set of plans.

Unfortunately, the federal government’s current approach to building the nation’s infrastructure lacks such a blueprint. The United States lacks a national strategic transportation and infrastructure plan.

In the coming months, as the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee crafts this reauthorization of major transportation programs, it is vital that we depart from the usual process of enacting an inadequate and piecemeal measure.

Establishing a coherent and comprehensive national transportation and infrastructure policy that defines projects and national priorities, including intermodal and multimodal system integration, is the first step.

We must remember the example of President Dwight Eisenhower’s vision for a national system of interstate highways and apply the same concept when planning for all modes of transportation.

Next, it is vital that we establish a sound plan for financing and implementing our strategy in order to maximize the investment potential of both the public and private sectors.

This financing plan should specify all levels of participation — federal, state, local and private. We must define rules for public-private partnerships and establish new revenue sources. We must explore and adequately outline terms for bonding, tolling, creative financing and utilizing the full faith and credit of the U.S. government to most effectively leverage our federal assets.

With a comprehensive plan and the means to finance our growing infrastructure needs, estimated by the American Society of Civil Engineers to be $2.2 trillion over the next five years, we can make headway in improving and expanding America’s highway, port, rail, airport, waterways and transit infrastructure.

Finally, and most importantly, is adoption of what I call the Mica 437-Day Plan. My plan to speed up the process of building our infrastructure is modeled after the 437 days in which the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis was contracted to be replaced.

Similar infrastructure projects normally take years to complete. Tom Skancke of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission testified before the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in 2008 that if you “add one federal dollar to a project, it adds 14 years to the delivery time.” This is unacceptable.

Just weeks before the new span in Minnesota opened, I stood next to the bridge with other Members of Congress and declared that if we could replace that bridge in 437 days, on budget and actually ahead of schedule, we can model that expedited process for other key projects around the nation.

In 2007, a California Bay Area interstate overpass that collapsed after an accident was rebuilt and opened just 25 days later — well ahead of its reconstruction schedule.

The project process can be sped up without riding roughshod over the environment or eliminating legal recourse. Approvals can run concurrently or be expedited in the public interest.

As we have heard in the debate over transportation and infrastructure projects in the stimulus package, countless projects across the country are mired and bogged down in lengthy approval processes. Worthless red tape and unnecessary delays have not contributed but rather detracted from our mission to build America.

By adopting a 437-day plan, not only can we bring projects online sooner, we can save the taxpayers billions and stretch those dollars much further.

Utilizing our limited resources effectively will be essential to addressing the important challenges facing Congress in the coming transportation reauthorization. When it comes to our nation’s infrastructure and transportation system, we can and must do better.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) is the ranking member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

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