Putting jobs in the driver's seat

I frequently remind my colleagues of the vital role that transportation plays in our nation’s economy and the essential role of transportation to the very fabric of our union. The great social philosopher Adam Smith argued that one of the three essential duties of government is to erect and maintain public works to facilitate commerce. Our founding fathers understood the importance of connecting our country through effective trade and communication with transportation and infrastructure and in our Constitution clearly tasked Congress with fulfilling this obligation. It has been a Republican tradition to take this obligation seriously – from President Lincoln’s support for the transcontinental railroad, to President Roosevelt’s construction of the Panama Canal, to President Eisenhower’s establishment of the Interstate Highway System.
 

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Today, America’s infrastructure is deteriorating and lacks adequate capacity. Crippling congestion and poor roads cost businesses and commuters almost $115 billion a year in wasted time and fuel. Americans spend more than 4 billionhours per year stuck in traffic. And due to cumbersome regulators, red tape, and bureaucracy, as a rule of thumb if the federal government is involved in a transportation project it takes three times as long and costs twice as much.
 
To further add to our problems, highway and transit programs have been extended eight times since 2009, preventing Congress from passing much needed reforms and robbing States from the stability need to take on major projects than can provide Americans with long-term employment and improve our competitiveness.
 
The American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act is the right solution at the right time. This important proposal will fund surface transportation programs at current levels, finally providing reliability to States to undertake much needed infrastructure projects and improvements. And by eliminating unnecessary barriers that prevent us from using our vast energy resources, this legislation permanently removes government barriers to American energy production and uses the revenues to repair and improve America’s roads and bridges – both of which support long-term job growth.
 
Spending taxpayer dollars wisely is a critical priority. Therefore it is essential to reform our transportation programs, streamline bureaucracy, and leverage limited federal resources. The American Energy and Infrastructure Act makes the biggest reforms to transportation programs since the Interstate Highway System was created in 1956. Our plan eliminates or consolidates nearly 70 federal transportation programs, removes federal mandates requiring states to spendhighway funds on non-highway activities, and gives States the flexibility to address their specific transportation needs and to set their own transportation priorities.
 
In order to streamline the transportation project approval process, the proposal delegates more project approval authority to the states, establishes hard deadlines for federal agencies to make decisions, and cuts the amount of federal red tape involved in getting projects built. Time is money, and with these reforms we can cut in half the time it takes to get a project approved.
 
Finally, to better leverage available resources our proposal encourages states to partner with the private sector to finance and build projects and increases the availability of low interest loans for major transportation projects. While the private sector cannot address all of our nation’s transportation needs alone, it is important to encourage partnerships that bring all available resources to the table.
 
President Obama embraced these very same concepts in his State of the Union speech just days ago – rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, opening up our offshore oil and gas resources, and clearing away the red tape that slows down far too many construction projects.  The path forward is clear and House Republicans have a concrete plan for action.
 
To quote President Reagan, “The state of our transportation system affects our commerce, our economy, and our future.” With the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, Congress has the ability to put on nation’s infrastructure programs on the road to reform and get our economy back on track.
 
Rep. Shuster (R-Pa.) is a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the chairman of Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials
Subcommittee.