First and foremost we need to get serious about repairing our aging infrastructure and build accountability and performance measures into the bill to ensure that we’re making improvements and showing progress to the public. Unfortunately, the original House bill eliminates the bridge repair program, and it would offload financial responsibility for much bridge upkeep to local taxpayers, even as we struggle to recover from a long fiscal crisis. Removing those provisions, and strengthening the incentives and resources for maintenance, would greatly improve the House bill.
The original House bill talks about devolving power away from Washington, but it actually takes away some of the latitude that local areas have today. It is important to place responsibility for planning and investing decisions at the regional and local level, where people actually live their lives.
Today, federal law requires us to work together at the local, regional and state level to plan transportation improvements, and we think the current shared partnership between states and local governments is an effective model for efficient distribution of limited transportation dollars. But a provision in the House bill undermines that process, because it says that if the governor doesn't like something about the resulting plan, he or she can override it. House leaders should remove that provision, and strengthen the incentives to plan and build cooperatively among all levels of government.
We also would like to see House leaders restore dedicated funding for programs that make local communities safer for bicycling and walking. Given what a tiny share of the transportation budget it represents, we can’t see any advantage in killing these programs. But we see a lot of good in continuing to help towns revitalize their Main Streets and connect neighborhoods to make it safer for kids to walk or bicycle to school, getting some exercise in the process.
Many of the more dangerous roads for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists alike in our communities are federal-aid highways. House leaders have said fixing these unsafe conditions is a local problem, or a frill we can do without. We strongly disagree, and we urge them to restore dedicated funds for this purpose.
In cutting the overall funding for transportation in their original bill, House leaders have said, in essence, that we are too poor to do right by our infrastructure needs. That's never been the American way when it comes to transportation investment. It's not how we built the canal system, transcontinental railroad, or the interstate highway system. We couldn't afford any of those investments at the time, but we came together around a national vision and built tremendous engines of economic growth.
We recognize that in the current political and economic climate the best we can probably hope for is a two-year bill that takes us through the election and farther into a recovery. We hope that at that point we can also recover our national ambition, think big and look for a vision for the future – a future that is worth paying for.
Cornett, a Republican, is mayor of Oklahoma City. Conti is North Carolina’s secretary of transportation. Heminger is executive director of the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission and served on the congressionally-chartered National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission.