The new transportation bill will only make a bad situation worse

All of this should come as no surprise. Speaker John Boehner has boasted he has never voted for a surface transportation bill. He also recently said, “We are not making the claim that spending taxpayer money on transportation projects creates jobs. We don’t make that claim and we won’t make that claim.”

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That might be true of HR 7, but it flies in the face of what nearly every credible economist says about the impact of transportation investments.

The Department of Transportation estimates that for every $1 billion invested in transportation infrastructure, we create or sustain over 34,000 private sector jobs and produce $6.2 billion in economic activity. The jobs created are not just construction jobs, these private sector jobs are in industries like engineering, software design and manufacturing.

Even 2009’s stimulus legislation was proof that transportation investment, no matter how minimal, creates jobs. Only seven percent of that bill was dedicated toward transportation projects, yet it created over one-third of the bill’s total jobs. Over 36 percent of the stimulus was dedicated to ineffective and expensive tax cuts that failed to create meaningful jobs. Had the stimulus contained significant investment in transportation, millions of Americans would be employed and we would be on our way toward building a 21st century transportation system.

Today we are in a race to the bottom spending a lower percentage of our GDP on crumbling 1950s infrastructure than many third world countries, while our economic competitors are investing in state of the art transportation systems.

This means American businesses struggle to make timely delivery of goods to the world market and travelers waste money, fuel, and time in unnecessary congestion.

HR 7 will make these problems worse. It is based on the theory that we can do without an efficient modern federal transportation system.

How bad is HR 7?

          - It jeopardizes 550,000 family-wage jobs over the coming years by cutting $15.8 billion in federal aid for highways.

          - The bill significantly reduces funding for bridge repair even though 150,000 bridges on the National Highway System are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete and in need of repair.

          - It walks away from the user-pay system instead relying on questionable funding sources to prop up the bill including higher federal pension co-pays to cover transit costs and increasing domestic oil and natural gas production.

          - It guts transit by delinking it from the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), a Reagan-era initiative, leaving it to compete against every other discretionary program.

          - It mandates and subsidizes the privatization of our public transit, and attempts to bribe transit authorities with promises of bigger federal if they sell off 20 percent of their routes.

          - Under the guise of streamlining, the bill attempts to negate environmental reviews.

And in spite of all the funding gimmicks, giveaways and takeaways, the bill is not financially sustainable. Last week, the Congressional Budget Office reported HR 7 will bankrupt the HTF by 2014, put the trust fund $500 million in the red by 2016 and leave a $9.4 billion shortfall by 2021.

We were once innovators. Thanks to the vision of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, we built a national highway system that was the envy of the world.
   
We can be innovators again. But it will take guts to confront those who say transportation investment won’t create jobs, and that our economic future doesn’t depend on an efficient and safe system. And it will take meaningful investment.

HR 7 needs to be scrapped and we need to return to the 50-year tradition of bipartisan user-fee paid transportation investment.

There is no more certain way to jumpstart our economy, put people to work and improve our long-term economic competitiveness than with a robust transportation bill. Now is the time to work together to draft a bill that meets our nation’s needs.

Rep. DeFazio (D-Ore.) is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.