Senate has path for transportation bill

Congress has come to the proverbial fork in the road regarding infrastructure investment, and there is very little time remaining to determine which path this country will take, because the authority for funding America’s surface transportation systems expires March 31. Nearly three-quarters of the Senate — both Democrats and Republicans — have spoken loud and clear: We need to pass a bipartisan two-year bill that funds transportation programs at current levels and saves or creates nearly 3 million jobs.

We found a clear path forward with our bipartisan surface transportation legislation, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), which passed 74-22 in the Senate last week. I urge the House of Representatives to take up and pass this bipartisan legislation, because it is the biggest jobs bill that Congress will consider this year — and it is fully paid for.

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The Senate bill is a strong reform measure and provides a much-needed boost in this period of economic recovery. This bill continues the current level of funding plus inflation, which saves 1.9 million jobs, according to the Department of Transportation. It also creates up to 1 million more jobs through leveraging in the improved and expanded Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program. Historically, every dollar made available through TIFIA can mobilize up to a total of $30 in transportation investments.

MAP-21 fills the highway trust fund for the two-year period of the bill, gives states the funding stability they need, enables projects to move forward during the critical spring construction season and allows time to transition to a long-term funding plan.

MAP-21 contains major reforms to transportation programs to make them more efficient. For highway programs alone, the bill consolidates nearly 90 programs into fewer than 30 to focus on key national goals and provide greater flexibility to the states so they are able to invest in their top priorities. It also eliminates earmarks, establishes performance measures to improve accountability and accelerates project delivery.

MAP-21 provides a significant boost to the construction industry, which has been especially hard-hit by the recession. Nearly 1.5 million construction workers are out of work, and the industry’s unemployment rate is 17.1 percent — more than twice the overall national rate.

Businesses, labor groups, states, cities and other organizations from all 50 states are standing together to urge immediate action on this bill. A coalition of more than 1,000 organizations signed a letter calling for quick action on the transportation bill, and they came together regardless of ideology to show that America is behind our efforts to pass this legislation.

I have been working closely with Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, to develop MAP-21 because infrastructure investment is not Democratic or Republican — it is vital for the nation as a whole and our economy.

When it comes to creating or saving jobs, making the highway trust fund solvent for the life of the bill and providing certainty and stability for states, the Senate bill accomplishes these goals with broad support from both sides of the aisle, unlike any option the House is considering.

The House is considering a short-term stopgap measure to extend transportation programs while it continues to attempt to find support for its partisan longer-term bill. Let me tell you why stopgap measures are not the right choice: Short-term extensions create uncertainty and instability for construction contracting, and states would have difficulty planning longer-term projects or making capital investments. They also provide no fix to the highway trust fund, which, without action, will run out of money in the next several months. The partisan efforts in the House to move a longer-term bill have no clear path to final passage.

If the House fails to pass any legislation and allows the current transportation extension to expire, it would be disastrous for the nation, because our surface transportation programs will shut down and put 1.9 million jobs at risk. Across the transportation sector, failure to enact transportation legislation will be devastating to thousands of businesses that are involved in transportation construction across the country. And this shutdown would occur at the worst possible time — the beginning of the spring construction season.

We simply cannot afford these devastating job losses or allow our crumbling infrastructure to deteriorate any further. In a letter I sent to House Speaker John

Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) last week, I urged the House to immediately pass MAP-21. By getting this bill to the president’s desk this month, we can avoid a shutdown of transportation programs, save or create millions of jobs, provide solvency for the trust fund and boost the economy.

Transportation has long been an area of strong bipartisanship. It is through bipartisanship that the Senate found a path forward, and if the House does the same, America wins.

Boxer is chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.