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Holden: Pass the Highway Transportation Bill

We aren’t doing enough to maintain America’s roads and bridges

There are many highly charged policy issues that divide us in this era of extreme political partisanship. Investing in our nation’s economic future through transportation infrastructure improvements should not be one of them. After all, there is no such thing as a Democratic bridge or a Republican highway.

This is why Congress needs to start working now on reauthorizing the highway bill, which expires on Sept. 30, 2014, because before it passed the current one in July of last year, it needed nine temporary extensions, which created a patchwork of stopgap measures that had negative consequences on our ability to responsibly plan and address infrastructure needs.

America’s transportation systems, once models of excellence in the world, are falling apart, and we aren’t doing enough to fix them. The Federal Highway Administration rates the condition of 1 in 4 urban roads as poor. Nearly 8,000 bridges across the country are classified as structurally deficient. Put simply, investments in maintaining infrastructure are not keeping up with increasing use over time.

According to a 2008 report to Congress by the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, chaired by then-Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters, we ought to be investing $225 billion annually at all levels of government and the private sector over the next 50 years.

A comprehensive and adequately funded transportation bill will mean that each political party can also score political points.

For Democrats, one of the biggest complaints by the political base is that little is being done to combat climate change and air pollution.

Urban congestion is a huge economic and environmental problem to which no simple solution exists. However complex the solution might be, it is indisputable that part of it must include aggressive investments in rehabilitating our aging and deteriorating transportation infrastructure.

Urban transportation congestion in 2011 cost the United States $121 billion in time and fuel, according to a recent study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. In order to arrive on time for important trips, we had to allow an average of one hour for a trip that takes 20 minutes in light traffic. In doing so we wasted 5.5 billion hours of time and burned 2.9 billion gallons of extra fuel (enough to fill four Superdomes) waiting in traffic. We also released 56 billion pounds of additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The Federal Highway Administration estimates that each dollar spent on road, highway and bridge improvements results in an average benefit of $5.20 in the form of reduced vehicle maintenance costs, reduced delays, reduced fuel consumption, improved safety, reduced road and bridge maintenance costs and reduced emissions as a result of improved traffic flow.

For Republicans, the transportation bill will mean a national investment in the infrastructure that so many small and large businesses rely on. Millions of businesses in the United States will be more profitable if the roads and bridges they rely on to deliver goods and services are in good condition and better able to cope with the demands of increasing traffic nationwide.

Infrastructure investment also fuels job creation. A 2007 study by the Federal Highway Administration (the most recent data available) concluded that each $1 billion of federal spending on highway construction generated almost 28,000 jobs annually, including about 9,500 in the construction sector, 4,300 jobs in industries supporting the construction sector, and 14,000 other jobs induced in non-construction sectors of the economy.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Transportation Performance Index, which quantifies how well transportation systems are meeting the demands of the nation, shows that underperformance cost the U.S. economy almost $2 trillion over 2008-2009. Investing in transportation infrastructure will move us in a direction to mitigate this drain on the economy.

The fact is, poor roads negatively affect the lives of all Americans. Shortchanging our nation’s infrastructure investment needs will cost all of us in lost time at work and with loved ones. For the millions of businesses in this nation that rely on our nation’s infrastructure, the cost of dilapidated roads and bridges has the power to kill profits. For those Americans concerned with climate change, better roads offer real and tangible ways to reduce greenhouse gas levels in the United States. In other words, passing a new transportation bill is a win-win for both political parties and the American people. Congress and the president must now come together and get it done.

Former Democratic Rep. Tim Holden represented Pennsylvania’s 17th District from 2003 to 2013 and the 6th District from 1993 to 2003. In the House, he served 16 years on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

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