Roads, bridges need attention

Columbus Dispatch
March 9, 2015

Congress needs to stop kicking the can down America’s increasingly deficient roads and — after years of stopgap actions and leaner funding — establish long-term, stable and sufficient funding for highways, bridges and other infrastructure.

This approach, urged by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and its peers in 41 other states in a joint letter to House and Senate leaders, is critical to driving continued economic growth, jobs and trade.

“The ability to cheaply, efficiently and safely transport goods, services and people is critical to Ohio’s economic growth,” Ohio chamber staffer Katie Brown said in a March 3 blog post.

Brown noted that while the chambers are hopeful Congress will solve the problem, “Ohio hasn’t allowed the fate of our infrastructure to sit in Washington’s hands.”

In 2014, Buckeye voters renewed the state’s Capital Improvements Program. And Gov. John Kasich devised a deal to bond the Ohio Turnpike to speed crucial road and bridge projects across Ohio, some delayed for as long as two decades.

But states cannot possibly afford the massive costs involved on their own. In its 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States infrastructure a D-plus grade, finding it “at risk … mostly below standard, with many elements approaching the end of their life service.”

America is conducting a 21st century economy using infrastructure often built more than 50 years ago. Meanwhile, other nations are becoming more competitive.

The state chambers note that China, India and Europe spend 9 percent, 8 percent and 5 percent of their gross domestic product to improve their infrastructure. Yet, they note, “infrastructure investments in the United States have declined to a mere 2.4 percent of GDP.”

Even more staggering, the engineers’ society estimates the U.S. needs to invest $3.6 trillion to fix its tired roads, bridges, dams, water systems and other infrastructure by 2020.

The state chambers urge Congress to act now to fully fund a long-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund and reauthorize the surface-transportation bill, to provide greater certainty and investment.

This plea comes as funding is set to expire in May on a 2012 bill that was a short-term patch and didn’t significantly increase spending.

The bump in the road, of course, is where to find the money to pay for these projects and who gets what: Rural areas want bridges and roads fixed; cities want bike paths and public transit.

And money is tight. The traditional source of revenues for the Highway Trust Fund, the federal gasoline tax, has failed to keep pace with inflation.

Resolving questions of financing will be difficult, but the chambers are right that Congress should get to it.

As the chamber letter notes: “Our deteriorating national infrastructure is not solely a state issue or a federal issue. It is not a small-business or a large-business issue. It is not a Democratic or a Republican issue — it is an American issue that directly affects our ability to compete in the global marketplace and provide financial security for millions of middle-class American families.”

Unlike much of what occupies Washington’s attention, infrastructure is a fundamental governmental responsibility.

 

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