Bipartisan highway bill offers hope for infrastructure

As America braces for another wave of holiday travel later this month, we have reason to be a little more optimistic about the future of our nation's roads.

Both houses of Congress recently passed the first multiyear surface transportation authorization bill in a decade, promising to give American business and American safety a green light for several years to come.

Congress has displayed an eagerness and a commitment to the creation of a bipartisan, bicameral, multi-year bill and bypassed partisan politics, indicating a real change in Congress and, we hope, a real change in American infrastructure.

We are encouraged that both Democrats and Republicans have rallied around the need to revitalize American infrastructure.  This bill will improve the lives of Americans on a daily basis, providing them a safer means of travel and greater economic opportunities, which is something we can all get behind.

The cost of continuing down the same gridlocked road was too high - providing inadequate time for short-term, let alone long-term planning, debating ideology while roads and bridges crumble.  

American infrastructure is symbolic of our way of life; it connects us, it is how we distribute our job-creating goods, the lifeblood of our economy and our society. The fiscal condition of the Highway Trust Fund reflects the value we place on these connections. The bipartisan effort that carried out the passage of this bill is encouraging that perhaps gridlock in Congress can be overcome to keep our country moving forward, safely.

For the last decade, the Highway Transportation Fund - the reserve that funds everything from bridge repairs, filling potholes, transit maintenance - has survived on short-term funding, often receiving only six months of funding at a time. This is a nearly impossible task when infrastructure projects unfold over years or even decades. 

The multiyear funding faced some considerable challenges, namely where the money will come from. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony FoxxAnthony FoxxGreat Lakes senators seek boost for maritime system Feds create advisory panel for self-driving cars Safety agency falls behind in rulemaking for hazardous materials MORE said it will take $400 billion to maintain the current transportation system, but improvements will require an additional $78 billion. Chairman Shuster's assurance that this will be "the last extension" was correct, and denotes a subtle - and encouraging - change in the temperament of a divided Congress. Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) was committed to finding common ground. 

This lack of sufficient funding for the last several years - a result of partisan politics and a strict adherence to the party line by some members of Congress - created a dangerous scenario for citizens. Some of the systems that connect people, transfer goods, have become so outdated that they pose a danger to those who use them. The derailment of the Amtrak train in Pennsylvania, killing eight and injuring more than 200 people earlier this year, provides a devastating example of the serious need to restructure and repair our surface transportation facilities. 

In addition to the safety risk, inattention to our infrastructure poses an economic risk: Underinvestment in our nation's transportation infrastructure places an undue burden on the economy. Lackluster transportation and roads drive American businesses overseas, where more modern, sustainable and better-funded transportation means more successful business ventures for factories.

And so the question is this: How can American citizens feel safe on the roads on which we travel, the bridges we cross, the trains we ride, knowing lawmakers are not willing to commit the funds for overdue maintenance? How can American business thrive and maximize the use and potential of American infrastructure?

The answer is a properly funded Highway Transportation Fund.

Bipartisanship in the world of transportation should be a given: Transportation affects all Americans and all aspects of American life. What's more, it's been done before. The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) was a bipartisan-supported bill that authorized $200 billion in investment in surface transportation during the Clinton Administration. The last six-year highway transportation was signed in 2005 under President Bush. It can be done. It has to - and, it was. 

We commend Chairman Shuster, ranking member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James InhofeJames InhofeGOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election A dozen senators call for crackdown on Chinese steel Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears MORE (R-Okla.), and ranking member Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerHouse and Senate water bills face billion difference Boxer, Feinstein endorse Kamala Harris in two-Dem Senate race Dems gain upper hand on budget MORE (D-Calif.) for taking the steps necessary to secure long-term funding for a sorely needed overhaul. The passage of this bill will create a safer infrastructure, and more American jobs, and it was achieved by their commitment to bipartisanship and the American people above the needs of individual parties.

The reauthorization of the Highway Trust Fund is also symbolic of repairing the damage to Congress after years of partisan politics. This bill could be the bridge that finally connects Republicans and Democrats, symbolizing the power and practicality of bipartisanship in government.

We commend Congress for engaging members of the opposing party to secure reliable funding for the Highway Trust Fund and amend an antiquated infrastructure - one that Americans traveled on over Thanksgiving, and one that will continue to move Americans on the next holiday, and in and out of the weeks and months to follow. With the passage of this bill, Congress has given American transportation and jobs a green light. 

Slater is the 13th U.S. Secretary of Transportation, serving under President Bill ClintonBill ClintonIf Smithsonian ever includes Clarence Thomas, it should be alongside Anita Hill The Hill's 12:30 Report Clinton needs to address Trump's tax-cut mythology MORE from 1997 to 2001. Mineta is the 14th U.S. Secretary of Transportation, serving under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2006. He was also secretary of Commerce under Clinton from 2000 to 2001.