Despite agreeing on necessity, we are at a standstill

Yet, despite this general agreement as to what is necessary for the well-being of our transportation system, we are at a complete standstill, literally.  

A little over four years ago, SAFETEA-LU, the surface transportation bill that I oversaw as chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, became law. Focused on increasing the level of investment for highways and transit programs, we committed more funding for rural transit, regional projects, congested corridors, and improvements in the safety of our roads, while also promoting private investment and expedited project delivery.  

SAFETEA-LU contributed necessary dollars to states to add capacity to their highways, improve infrastructure, and attend to their backlog of maintenance projects. It put countless Americans to work in jobs that were essential to the development of the country.

With the introduction of a new transportation bill, Chairman Oberstar will continue that work and build on the foundation we laid four years ago. We have reached the time where a new highway bill needs to be passed by Congress, and yet despite the country’s increasingly crumbling infrastructure, the administration thinks that we should delay the bill for 18 months.  

To add insult to injury, America is losing its global competitiveness. Based on current trends, between 2000 and 2020 China will build 42,000 miles of new highways and India will build 25,000, while America will build only 1,130 miles. These new roads will allow our competitors to move freight more effectively and efficiently, therefore increasing production. The United States used to sit at the top of the global hierarchy, and has steadily declined over the past decade due to lack of production, which is directly linked to our decreasing ability to swiftly and cheaply move raw materials.

We are losing our economic footing by not producing here at home, and by not investing in the infrastructure. We need to focus on reducing project delivery time and removing some of the bureaucratic hurdles. We cannot expect to remain competitive in the global marketplace when infrastructure projects average ten years to finish. 

Even though the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is the lead agency, numerous additional parties must analyze historic preservation, wetland impacts, and mitigation and compliance with National Environmental Policy Act requirements resulting in lengthy and costly delays. We can streamline environmental surveys by giving FHWA authority to set strict deadlines, require agencies to conduct their analysis simultaneously, and limit the filing of frivolous lawsuits.

As an example, in the case of the Port of Anchorage in Alaska, the Maritime Administration brought interested parties together, and explained the complexities of construction in Alaska, pooled resources together, and secured permits quickly.

Seventy-five percent of the goods that come into the state of Alaska come in through the Port of Anchorage, showing how a truly intermodal system can work effectively if not hampered by red tape.

The average American adult spends an hour and a half each day driving in his or her car, which adds up to a total of 23 days per year. Of that time, 34 hours a year are spent in traffic jams, contributing to the waste of nearly 2.3 billion gallons of fuel per year from all cars idling in traffic. As the American population continues to grow so do our transportation needs, and our country’s infrastructure is quite simply not keeping up with the demand.

While President Barack Obama is pushing billions of dollars in “stimulus” bills that fund big government, he is missing a golden opportunity to stimulate the economy. Investments in infrastructure create jobs, plain and simple. Our infrastructure system as a whole is causing us to lose our standing in the global marketplace because we have not made it a priority. A new highway bill needs to be done now and not at some point down the road.

Young is a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.