By Keith Laing
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said Wednesday that President Obama’s proposal to spend $50 billion on road and transit projects was a “short term” transportation funding solution.
Shuster said Obama’s proposal falls short of addressing the deficit in funding for road and public transit projects that has been created by dwindling federal gas tax revenue.
The 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax, which has been the traditional source of funding for federal transportation bills, currently brings in about $35 billion per year. Congress approved a $105 billion surface transportation bill that spent more than $50 billion per year.
“Our nation has significant long-term infrastructure needs that must be addressed and responsibly paid for to improve our economic competitiveness, efficiency and quality of life,” Shuster said in a statement released by his office Wednesday afternoon.
“I welcome the president’s interest in improving our infrastructure,” Shuster continued. “However, the president’s plan appears to be only a short-term proposal for long-term challenges.”
Obama’s plan, which he has dubbed “Fix It First,” includes spending $40 billion on repairs to existing roads and bridges and $10 billion to create a national infrastructure bank.
Obama first referenced the proposal, which is a repackaging of his transportation proposal he has made since 2011, in the State of the Union address. Obama said then that the infrastructure proposal would fix 70,000 “structurally deficient” bridges in the U.S.
Despite his disbelief in the long-term effectiveness of the Obama transportation proposal, Shuster said there were some aspects of Obama’s plan that he agreed with.
“I’m encouraged by the president’s comments about the need to reduce red tape and streamline project delivery, including working to implement provisions from MAP-21 that can cut the time to build a highway project in half,” he said. “We need to find additional opportunities to move projects ahead faster in all modes of transportation to save time and money.”
To prove his point, Shuster, who assumed control of the Transportation Committee last month, added: “It can take the Army Corps of Engineers 17 years to complete a major port terminal project that takes the private sector only seven years.
“I hope the president will be willing to work with Congress on this and other long-term solutions to our substantial infrastructure needs,” he said.
The White House said Wednesday that Obama’s infrastructure proposal would streamline the approval process for transportation projects.
“The president’s plan will cut timelines in half for infrastructure projects and create incentives for better outcomes for communities and the environment through a historic modernization of agency permitting and review regulations, procedures, and policies,” the White House said in a statement Wednesday.
The White House said Obama’s plan would also encourage public-private partnerships, leveraging the initial government funding to increase private-sector spending on transportation.
“The president’s plan will bring together an array of new and existing policies all aimed at enhancing the role of private capital in U.S. infrastructure investment as a vital additive to the traditional roles of federal, state, and local governments,” the White House statement said.
The private funding would be sought using federal loan guarantee programs like the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA), which has proven to be popular with state and local governments.