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State of Good Repair: Basis for Economic Development; SGR Leads to Stronger Transportation, Which Supports Growth

Executive Director, Transportation Infrastructure
U.S. Chamber of Commerce

For almost one hundred years, America’s infrastructure has been the envy of the world. From the transcontinental railroads to electric streetcars, from subways to the interstate highway system and advances in air travel, our nation’s history of providing state-of-the-art infrastructure is impressive.

But, like those of us who own a home know, failure to maintain an asset allows minor problems to turn into major reconstruction. In the infrastructure market, the latest American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report Card tells this sad story, ranking the nation’s infrastructure a D+. Shockingly, this is actually an improvement from a D grade in the previous report.

Specifically, the public transit sector was graded a D. Accompanying this poor grade, FTA estimates that a funding gap of $25 billion per year exists and, without further action, this gap is expected to grow.

Study after study has shown that investing in transit leads to better safety, faster economic growth and higher quality of life. Not maintaining the infrastructure will have the reverse effect; the recent shutdown of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority due to safety issues is just the most recent example.

Increased focus and investment must be made in surface transportation in order to support projects, including repairing the nation’s 70,000 deficient bridges and funding the $86 billion in deferred maintenance to our public transportation systems.

The $305 billion FAST Act will streamline the environmental review process for bridge repair, utilizing limited investments in a more efficient manner.

Investment in public transportation’s State of Good Repair program will grow from $2.1 billion in Fiscal Year 2015 to $2.68 billion in Fiscal Year 2020. We are also seeing state and local governments step forward with investment plans to supplement the FAST Act. In 2015, eight states increased their motor fuel tax to meet transportation infrastructure goals, and states such as California, Connecticut and New Jersey are having fuel tax discussions this year.

Communities across the nation are coming together to repair infrastructure while integrating technology to improve its capability.

DOT’s Smart City Challenge is one example. Winner Columbus, OH, conducted a comprehensive review of its transit system and produced a Transit System Redesign. The plan recommends a number of system enhancements, including a prioritized list of bus and rail projects, plus technologies to employ.

Many cities know that providing a transportation network built on options and predictability is a crucial factor in attracting new businesses and citizens.

The recent DOT report, Beyond ­Traffic, described in detail what the future may hold for our changing population. The report finds that the U.S. population is expected to grow by 70 million people in the next 30 years. By 2045, the nation’s economy is forecast to grow by 115 percent and the transportation sector will represent $1.6 trillion of gross domestic product. In addition, the growing urban millennial generation is driving less while utilizing technology more.

Without changes, the report states, investment in surface transportation is not meeting demand. For public transportation, current investment is $17.1 billion annually, a far cry from the necessary $43 billion.

Here’s the bottom line: The time to make important infrastructure investments is now. Delaying action only makes the decisions more difficult and more costly. From the business community’s perspective, the question is not whether we need to make these decisions, but when.

Business, labor, public transit advocates and other key stakeholders must partner with Congress to find a long-term, sustainable funding source for federal surface transportation investment. The federal gasoline tax, stuck at 18.3 cents per gallon, has not increased since 1993. Since then, the user fee has lost more than 35 ­percent of its purchasing power. Despite passage of the FAST Act, our nation’s current level of investment in surface transportation is less than half of what is needed.

Locally, the business community is usually a lead voice in increasing transportation investment. According to an American Road and Transportation Builders Association report, 23 states enacted over 30 measures to support transportation investment in 2015, generating an estimated $11.3 billion in new revenue.

From all levels of government, there is no single funding solution that will solve all our financing problems. The Chamber believes communities should have a large toolkit of funding and financing options available that can be utilized to provide the infrastructure needed to not only succeed but to lead the world in providing economic and social mobility.

Improving our current infrastructure is a key component in modernizing many parts of the country. The Chamber and APTA, through the Americans for Transportation Mobility coalition, are committed to working with elected officials to ensure our nation provides an infrastructure system that keeps up with the changing times.

"Commentary" features points of view from various sources to enhance readers' broad awareness of themes that affect public transportation.
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