Cut red tape to protect conduits of commerce

Transportation is a critical element of our nation’s economic competitiveness. Highways are the veins and arteries of our economy through which commerce flows.

Today, America’s infrastructure is deteriorating and lacks adequate capacity. Crippling congestion and roads in poor condition cost businesses and commuters almost $115 billion a year in wasted time and fuel. Americans spend more than 4 billion hours 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 can take three times as long and costs twice as much.

The core of America’s infrastructure was built to support a population of around 250 million people. Today there are approximately 300 million Americans, and in only 27 years, our population is projected to top 400 million. America’s infrastructure is deteriorating and lacks adequate capacity to meet this challenge.  

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 they need to take on major projects that can provide Americans with long-term employment and improve our competitiveness.

If we don’t act now, we will be unable to catch up to meet the needs of our growing population or compete in the global marketplace. To put it simply, we need to build a strong foundation to support future economic 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. Additionally, we need to finally provide long-term reliability to states to undertake much-needed infrastructure projects and improvements and give them the flexibility to address their specific transportation needs and to set their own transportation priorities.

We also have the opportunity to eliminate unnecessary barriers that prevent us from using our vast energy resources, permanently removing government obstruction to American energy production and using the revenues to repair and improve America’s roads and bridges — both of which support long term job growth.

In order to streamline the transportation project approval process, it is critical that we give more project approval authority to the states, establish hard deadlines for federal agencies to make decisions and cut 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, we must encourages states to partner with the private sector to finance and build projects and increase 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.

I frequently remind my colleagues that the godfather of our Constitution, the great social philosopher Adam Smith, argued the three essential duties of government are to provide security, justice and 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.  The Articles of Confederation failed in large part because there was no way for Congress to regulate commerce between the states.  The Founders remedied this by clearly tasking Congress with fulfilling this obligation in the Constitution. 

To quote President Reagan, “The state of our transportation system affects our commerce, our economy, and our future.” Congress must fulfill its constitutional obligation and put our nation’s infrastructure programs on the road to reform and get our economy back on track. 

Shuster is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.