For half of a century, America has been spinning its wheels by failing to meet the challenge of investing in infrastructure. Our crumbling roads and bridges year after year, example after disturbing example, paint a picture of America falling apart and falling behind. Once the finest in the world, America’s infrastructure has instead become a visible symbol of our challenges of governance. In the coming months, the American Society of Civil Engineers will issue its updated scorecard on American infrastructure. The scorecard is sure to again document our lack of progress in meeting perhaps the most visible challenge a government faces: funding and financing infrastructure.
However, we are optimistic that the landscape is shifting. There is no issue on Capitol Hill with as much unity and cooperation than exists for infrastructure. Business and labor, truckers and bicyclists, transit agencies and highway users are all united on improving America’s infrastructure. These diverse interests have successfully created consensus within the halls of Congress, too, about the need to renew and rebuild America.
That rebuilding – investing in our nation’s roadways – would provide tangible improvements in the daily lives of most Americans, and for trucking alone, reduced congestion would improve productivity, safety, and help the environment by eliminating up to 67 million tons of CO2 annually caused by trucks sitting in traffic.
But as clear as the benefits are, the decades-long sticking point has been how to pay for it. Despite the fact that investments in infrastructure have a high economic multiplier, put millions of people to work at family-wage jobs, improve opportunity, and make America more competitive, raising revenues has been a stumbling block for Republicans and Democrats alike. This equation is changing. The pandemic has demonstrated the imperative of substantial investments in programs that stabilize communities, create jobs, and restore families from once-in-a-century economic damage. Several trillion dollars have been approved as an important down payment toward economy recovery. And as a next step, Congress must provide the president with the funds necessary for comprehensive infrastructure investment, and we believe all options should be on the table.
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Transitioning to an equitable, modern solution for funding our infrastructure within the next decade is essential. This long-term vision will ensure that the United States remains an economic leader for the foreseeable future. We should look to consider a pricing program based on road use, paid for by people who have the capacity and the incentive to make the investments. At the same time, we may contemplate a slightly lower cost for rural and small-town Americans, while people pay more for the traffic congestion where it is caused.
With the amount of division our country has witnessed in recent months, infrastructure investment may be the one issue that can help unify our nation, with the promise of better roads, less congestion and job creation, reaching every corner of America.
We have the experience, we have the coalition, and we have the policies, we only need Congress to provide the political courage to reinvest in America for decades to come.
Chris Spear is president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations and Earl Blumenauer represents Oregon’s 3rd District.