We Can’t Afford to Back Down From Infrastructure Investments | Commentary

Posted April 17, 2015 at 2:26pm

In Pennsylvania, we have some of the most run-down roads and bridges in the country. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 22 percent of our state’s roads have unacceptable pavement quality and 43 percent of our bridges are functionally obsolete or structurally deficient. Earlier this month, I visited the Greenfield Bridge, where another bridge had to be built underneath to protect drivers from debris falling from Greenfield’s crumbling infrastructure.

Both Republicans and Democrats agree that at the federal level, we have a constitutional responsibility to maintain our national transportation infrastructure system and find a sustainable way to pay for it.

The Highway Trust Fund is estimated to go bankrupt this summer, unless Congress acts now. Unfortunately, this is not the first time this fund has almost run dry. Since 2008, we have made six transfers — in total more than $60 billion — to the Highway Trust Fund from the General Fund, which is paid for by tax dollars and borrowing money from foreign countries such as China. This is not sustainable or fiscally responsible. We need a better, more affordable solution.

I have been working on leveraging private sector savings on major infrastructure projects through public-private partnerships. My colleagues in the House and Senate are starting to talk about ideas to shore up the Highway Trust Fund by repatriating funds from overseas, increasing tolls on our highways, increasing taxes on heavy-duty commercial vehicles, applying the gas tax to alternative fuels, and raising revenue from oil and gas royalties on federal lands.

My constituents sent me to Congress to implement real solutions, not to just talk about ideas. Therefore, I am proud to support Ohio Republican Rep. James B. Renacci’s Bridge to Sustainable Infrastructure Act. This commonsense legislation would create a bipartisan, bicameral committee to force Congress to fix the Highway Trust Fund and provide 10 years of investment in our roads and bridges. All options are on the table. If, and only if, Congress fails to develop a solution, the bill requires modifications to the gas and diesel taxes to make up for the shortfalls in the Highway Trust Fund.

The gas and diesel taxes are the sole funding source for the Highway Trust Fund, but they haven’t been adjusted for more than 20 years and are not indexed for inflation. The costs of building and maintaining our roads and bridges have soared, but the funding source for these projects has stayed the same. Since 1993, the number of cars and trucks on our roads has increased and, at the same time, their fuel efficiency improved — meaning more wear and tear, but less money to repair. Clearly, times have changed. With that being said, I have very real concerns that simply increasing the gas tax would be like betting on a dying horse.

Unfortunately, time is ticking. Congress must act now to pay for the infrastructure investment our constituents need. Today, we can ship our goods faster than anyone else anywhere in the world. We need a strong infrastructure system to maintain the competitive transportation advantages that Pennsylvania and our country have over other nations. But those other nations are actively investing in their infrastructure systems to chip away at our competitive advantages. If we don’t take immediate steps to prevent our nation’s infrastructure system from crumbling, everyday Americans will continue to lose money, jobs, and most importantly, their lives. I’m committed to a long-term highway bill to make our highways as safe and efficient as possible.

Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., serves as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee.