The Importance of Investing in Infrastructure
Our nation must use an integrated approach to solve our transportation problems. Though maintaining a safe and effective roadway system is essential, we must work to provide Americans with other methods of transportation as well.
Transportation options like mass transit, passenger rail and places that make it easy to bike or walk offer us more vibrant and livable communities where local businesses can invest and grow. These diverse transit options improve air quality, reduce our reliance on foreign oil and support healthier lifestyles. Since transportation is a major source of carbon dioxide emissions, we cannot effectively fight climate change without reining in pollution from the transportation sector.
A strong national infrastructure is part of the foundation of our economy, but we have a big challenge ahead when it comes to paying for that infrastructure. While the gas tax – which funds our transportation programs – hasn’t changed since 1993, the price of steel, concrete, asphalt, and labor has gone up. And Americans are driving more fuel efficient vehicles, including hybrids, so they’re using less gas and generating less revenue to fund transportation programs. This means that we are investing much less in transportation than we were 20 years ago, even though our population continues to grow and our existing transportation infrastructure continues to age.
I’ve long advocated for gradually restoring that purchasing power of the gas tax that has been lost since 1993, and ensure that our investments keep up with inflation thereafter. This is a fiscally responsible approach to making sure that we have the type of a world-class transportation network that can support a world-leading economy. In the mean time, Congress should explore fair and sustainable alternatives to the traditional gas tax to ensure that America can maintain and expand our transportation system so it can continue to serve Americans safely and effectively for generations to come and so that we can better compete in the global marketplace.
We will also need to make sure that this funding is going to programs that Americans have faith in and that are achieving real results, like cutting congestion, improving safety, and reducing reliance on foreign oil. We also need to make transportation more affordable. For most American families, transportation is the second largest budget item, after housing costs. This is because we built homes far from work places, provided few transit options, and made it unsafe for a child to even walk to school. While we took steps toward addressing these problems in the transportation bill Congress passed into law in 2012, we must build on that progress – especially if we are going to ask Americans to pay more for these services.
One of my top priorities since coming to Congress has been to enhance intercity passenger rail systems, like Amtrak. Amtrak meets the transportation needs of millions of Americans and thousands of businesses nationwide, including more than 700,000 Delaware riders each year. Funding for intercity rail projects is a critical step toward modernizing our transportation infrastructure, reducing congestion on our roads and highways, and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
Fuel efficiency is also an essential component of our nation’s transportation solution. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 was a landmark effort to reduce our nation's dependence on foreign oil and decrease air pollution. The legislation included a bipartisan compromise - developed by my colleagues and I in the Senate – to increase the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard from 10 miles per gallon to 35 miles per gallon by model year 2020. President Obama recently moved up this deadline to 2016 and has set an additional goal of reaching 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. By 2025, this enhanced fuel efficiency standard will cut U.S. oil consumption by 2.2 million barrels of oil per day compared with 2010 levels, nearly twice the amount of oil currently imported from the Persian Gulf each day. It will also save consumers $1.7 trillion in fuel costs and result in an average fuel savings of more than $8,000 per vehicle.
The Need to Pass a Long-Term Transportation Bill This Year
Congress must act this summer to pass and fund a long-term transportation bill. Last summer, I urged long-term action only to be told we needed another short-term patch to provide the time needed to complete a long-term bill. The time is here. Our states, cities and businesses are asking for more certainty so that they can plan the type of transformative projects that will restore our aging infrastructure and strengthen our economy.
Here are some of the groups who have called for long-term action in this Congress and last:
- American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA)
- American Trucking Associations (ATA)
- American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)
- American Highway Users Alliance (AHUA)
- Concrete Reinforced Steel Institute
- International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE)
- Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO
- Laborers' International Union of North America (LiUNA)
- League of American Bicyclists
- Transportation for America
July 12, 2014 This budget gimmickry is distasteful for several reasons, starting with the fact that the plan spends money now, over the course of less than a year, that the government will make back over 10 years. The idea is to give Congress more time to sort out a permanent solution to the Highway Trust Fund’s perpetual funding shortfalls. But lawmakers don’t need more time; they need more spine.
...the House made the situation worse with a sad excuse for a highway funding bill: A 10-month measure that keeps spending at an inadequate level and does not address the dwindling revenues that keep producing all-too-familiar cliffhanging crises. The bill pays for building projects through a series of budget gimmicks, including one that will probably result in companies underfinancing their pensions.
July 23, 2014
As critics have been quick to point out, this is a highly dodgy accounting gimmick. If companies pay lower contributions now, they will pay higher contributions later, on which more tax relief will be claimed; no new tax revenue will be raised at all. And it is not as if this strategy is without risk. When companies go bust with underfunded pension scheme, the PBGC (Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation) steps in; any measure that stops pensions from being properly funded makes life more risky for the PBGC, which already has a deficit of around $36 billion.
By Michael Levi
January 13, 2015
Three months ago, gas taxes were untouchable. Now, with oil prices down, they're having a moment. Public voices ranging from Larry Summers to Charles Krauthammer are calling for hikes. (Summers argues for a carbon tax; Krauthammer says the tax should be raised "a lot.")
More important, serious lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have gotten in on the game. The general thrust of the arguments on offer is that with oil prices falling, it's now possible to raise the gas tax and still leave consumers better off than they were half a year ago.
By The Editorial Board
April 6, 2015
When Congress launched the interstate highway system almost six decades ago, it included a Highway Trust Fund, or funding mechanism that would ensure the effort was self-sustaining. Revenue would be raised through a gasoline tax, a classic “user fee.” And the arrangement worked well, until recently. Money going into the fund from the gas tax has not kept pace with demand. So, the past six years, lawmakers have applied temporary fixes, drawing on general revenue and budgeting gimmicks, borrowing to pay for roads and bridges.
By The Editorial Board
April 10, 2015
Wouldn't it be great to live with 1993 prices? A dozen eggs was less than a dollar. First-class postage was 29 cents. And the cost of a gallon of gas was $1.13 […]
So why would anyone believe the United States can have its highways, bridges and public transit for 22-year-old prices? But that's essentially what we're stuck with as Congress hasn't changed the gas tax — the primary source of revenue for the federal Highway Trust Fund — since it was last increased in 1993.
By Barry Ritholtz
April 28, 2015
Get in your car and go for a drive just about anywhere in the U.S. You will be confronted with a transportation system desperately in need of a reboot. I'm not referring to a full upgrade to smart roads — the sensor-driven intelligent system that promises to move vehicles more cheaply and efficiently. Rather, I refer to essential repairs: filling potholes, basic maintenance.
In the U.S., we have allowed a transportation grid that was once the envy of the world to become an embarrassing wreck.
By The Editorial Board
April 29, 2015
The latest short-term measure, approved in August, was supposed to provide lawmakers a final chance to get their act together and approve a plan that stabilized revenue and permitted construction of long overdue projects.
Yet here we are, barely a month away from the deadline, and Congress has yet to begin serious public deliberation of a sustainable solution.
By The Editorial Board
May 18, 2015
Congress has consistently shortchanged Amtrak, and this tragedy is unlikely to shake Capitol Hill out of its torpor. House Republicans cut more than $1 billion from President Obama’s $2.45-billion Amtrak funding request the day after the derailment, which would leave it $251 million below current spending levels.
But Congress hasn’t just neglected the nation's passenger railroad — it has ignored the entire transportation system and the nation's roadways, too. The Highway Trust Fund, the main source of funding for the highway system, has been shrinking for more than 20 years and is nearly insolvent.
By The Editorial Board
May 19, 2015
Imagine setting out on a long trip planning to buy gasoline a gallon at a time and hope it lasts until the next station.
That's pretty much how Congress has been funding road and transit projects for the past six years. Every few months, it passes a temporary measure, called a "patch." Patch No. 32 will run out at the end of this month. And the strong likelihood is that it will be followed by No. 33. The House passed its version Tuesday. It lasts all the way until July 31.
By The Editorial Board
May 20, 2015
This is Congress at its most frustrating. There is widespread public support for repairing and upgrading the nation's infrastructure, and there have been bipartisan proposals to help close the funding gap by gradually increasing the gasoline tax, which hasn't been raised since 1993. Federal officials have documented the backlog of deferred maintenance — more than half of the nation's major roads are rated poor or mediocre and one-quarter of the bridges are structurally deficient. Yet lawmakers repeatedly passed stopgap measures rather than address the underlying problem, which is that the fund doesn't generate enough money to pay for the essential transportation investments needed.
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