Unacceptable to delay job-creation measure

Unfortunately, the Obama administration has proposed an 18-month extension of the current surface transportation authorization (SAFETEA-LU). In reality, an 18-month delay will turn into a two- to three-year delay. We cannot afford to put this bill off to some future to-be-determined date because it will leave states without the reliable funding source they need to plan significant multi-year projects. Nearly 400,000 jobs will be lost if we pass an eighteen-month extension of our current surface transportation authorization. Alternatively, the STAA will create or sustain over 12.5 million family-wage jobs. That’s 6 million more jobs than if we continue status quo funding. Each $1 billion of federal transportation investment creates or sustains over 34,000 jobs and $6.2 billion in economic activity. Those are family-wage jobs designing bridges, building roads, and manufacturing American-made buses and streetcars — jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.    

In addition to creating desperately needed jobs, this legislation provides a vision and a path towards a 21st century transportation system. The bipartisan legislation will make our highways safer, improve our roads and transit systems, make our businesses more competitive by reducing their costs due to time spent in traffic, and reduce the amount of time the average person spends in gridlock. What’s more, it is long overdue. At one time, the U.S. led the world in surface transportation investment, which created a transportation system second to none. But since the Interstate construction era ended our investment has declined and our current lack of investment in infrastructure has brought us to where we are today — aging, potholed, rusted, outdated infrastructure, sliding towards third-world status. 

As has been detailed in many reports, including in two blue-ribbon reports commissioned by SAFETEA-LU, the quality of our transportation system is deteriorating. Decades of underinvestment have taken their toll. Almost 61,000 miles on the National Highway System are in poor or fair condition; more than 152,000 bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete; and more than 32,500 public transit buses and vans have exceeded their useful life. 

This aging infrastructure network has a direct impact on Americans’ daily lives. A recent study found that for the average driver, rough roads add more than $300 annually to typical vehicle operating costs. In urban areas with high concentrations of rough roads, extra vehicle operating costs can be over $700 annually. According to the Texas Transportation Institute, in 2007 congestion cost Americans $87 billion in wasted time and fuel. In addition, congestion impacts the costs consumers pay for products. In this just-in-time delivery system the longer a delivery truck sits in traffic the more the product costs and the less competitive our businesses are in the global marketplace. And it’s not just increased costs that have an impact: Approximately 42,000 people are killed each year on the nation’s highways, with an estimated 15,000 traffic deaths occurring where substandard road conditions were a factor. Recent transit deaths also reflect a system in sore need of repair and renewal. 

The SAFETEA-LU National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission report in January 2008 estimated we should be investing a minimum of $225 billion from all sources annually in all modes of transportation (highways, bridges, transit, freight rail, and passenger rail). Additionally, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates the nation’s infrastructure requires an investment of $2.2 trillion over the next five years to bring our infrastructure to a state of good repair. We are currently investing only $85 billion from all sources annually, and while China spends 9 percent of its GDP on infrastructure, the U.S. spends just 0.93 percent of its GDP on infrastructure investments.

A delay in enacting our next authorization will not give us the type of transportation system we need to be competitive in the 21st century.  An 18-month delay is an incredible disservice that will cost millions of jobs starting with the construction season next spring. It is unacceptable. Every day of delay, we lose jobs that are desperately needed and we deny people safe roads and bridges. Every day people will sit in traffic instead of spending time with their families. Every day people are not as safe as they could be because of our crumbling infrastructure.

The time for this authorization is now. My Subcommittee on Highways and Transit has held over 25 hearings and briefings in preparation for authorization and we have already referred the legislation to the full committee. We cannot afford to delay this bill. 

The Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009 provides the accountability, increased investment, and renewed vision for surface transportation that America needs.

DeFazio is a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.