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Investing in essential infrastructure

President Barack Obama made transportation investment a priority in his 2012 budget. He proposed a 66 percent increase in transportation spending over his FY11 request, and an 84 percent increase in spending over 2010 levels. Within the President’s request for transit programs, high speed rail accounted for a large portion of the funds. While rail programs are certainly necessary for our country, we need to ensure we are spending money on projects that will create jobs now.

There needs to be a heavier emphasis placed on road and bridge construction.

Last month the Chairman of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, John Mica, and members of the Committee embarked on a nationwide listening tour. The Committee visited 11 cities to learn how to help private sector businesses grow, prosper, and focus on infrastructure programs that have the greatest multiplying effect on long-term job creation. A common theme at every stop of the tour was the need to improve essential infrastructure.

Expansion and improvement of infrastructure, like highways and bridges, build upon the networks that link our cities, towns, and communities regardless of size or demographic. These projects connect us as one nation, open new areas for industrial expansion, and foster increased trade. They help open the lines of communication and help build small businesses throughout the country.

Infrastructure programs also benefit local economies, and have an immediate, tangible, and positive effect on business and innovation. People must be able to commute from one economic center to another to purchase goods and services. Every dollar invested in the highway system yields $5.40 in economic benefits.

Construction of highway projects is also a sound source of long-term job creation. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 1.3 million individual businesses are directly involved in transportation infrastructure design and construction. From engineers, to managers, to physical laborers, over 3.3 million full-time jobs are traced to transportation construction.

Highways are also vital in transporting goods across the country. In 2010, highways were used to ship 84 percent of the dollar value of all domestic freight within the United States. They are also the most used form of transportation, with 99 percent of Americans using surface travel.

With the current economic climate, we have an opportunity to specifically target and bolster those infrastructure programs that are the most productive, and remove those that are duplicative, penalize innovation, and susceptible to severe cost overruns.

We learned from a Government Accountability Office report that more than 100 different surface transportation programs exist, spanning five separate agencies. This is unacceptable for two reasons. First, this fragmented approach distracts from a comprehensive plan to improve infrastructure and foster connectivity that benefits both urban and rural areas. Second, it unfairly burdens our children and grandchildren with unnecessary debt caused by the absence of a coherent national focus.

With the country facing over $14 trillion in debt and February’s deficit being the highest in history, we must scrutinize every investment. We must remember the way we invest is as important as how much we invest. The government’s number one concern should be supporting programs that grow the economy, create jobs, and help all Americans. For decades, improving roads and bridges have been a source of American innovation and played a pivotal role in overall economic growth. Now is not the time to abandon proven success.

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