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Infrastructure investment is key to economic recovery

That is why, when we passed the President’s economic stimulus package two years ago, I wanted to put every dollar in the stimulus bill toward our national infrastructure. Unfortunately, the bill only included $48.1 billion for infrastructure investment, just a fraction of the hundreds of billions of dollars needed to make vital improvements to our highways, railroads, bridges, airports and waterways. We should have done more then, and two years later, despite the many known economic benefits, we still are not investing enough in our nation’s infrastructure.

There is no question that we need to move forward in Congress with legislation making necessary improvements to our nation’s highways, which will create a number of good-paying jobs in communities across the country and enhance our ability to move people and goods quickly, safely and efficiently. While there are challenges involved, including issues of funding, I am convinced that any policy differences can be resolved with bipartisan cooperation. 

Additionally, as Ranking Democrat of the Aviation Subcommittee, I have continued to stress that we must pass a reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration which improves the safety of the flying public and makes necessary enhancements at our nation’s airports. 

We must invest in the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), which will allow us to transition from a ground-based radar air traffic system to a satellite-based system. This is an example of the positive economic impact of infrastructure investment – saving millions of dollars – as NextGen will allow us to make more efficient use of our airspace as planes are able to fly closer together and pilots and controllers have access to real-time information, reducing congestion and delays and saving fuel.

As a member of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, I have been a strong supporter of high-speed rail. In my home state of Illinois, I have worked for nearly two decades and with a number of federal, state and local officials on establishing a high-speed rail corridor in the Midwest – and I have encouraged other regions of the country to follow suit. This is a smart investment, as high-speed rail has the ability to transform the way we travel in America, create new jobs and give our economy a significant boost.

For all the emphasis on new and innovative national infrastructure projects, it is also imperative that we include our nation’s existing levees and water infrastructure improvements as we move forward with these investments. Throughout the country, we are facing serious levee maintenance and repair issues. By some estimates, this is a $100 billion problem, and local governments and levee districts, while largely responsible for these improvements, are hard pressed to make these investments alone. A strong federal commitment is vital in ensuring the safety of our communities, and it must be an integral part of our infrastructure improvement efforts.

Finally, ramping up our investments in infrastructure is one area where earmarks can play a very important role. Although earmarks have become somewhat of an ugly word with the public, and the Republican majority has announced a moratorium on all earmarks during the 112th Congress, the reality is that earmarks have been used to provide vital resources to carry out local infrastructure projects across the country that create jobs and boost the economy. 

The earmark process allows critical projects to be funded where oftentimes adequate federal investments are not being made. This is particularly important in rural America. 

It was no coincidence that the presidents of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO – who very rarely agree on issues of national policy – came together earlier this year to issue a joint statement in support of President Obama’s calls “to create jobs and grow the U.S. economy through investment in our nation’s infrastructure.” 

At the end of the day, this is a point on which most Americans can agree: rebuilding our country’s infrastructure is critical to securing our economic future with new jobs and improving our quality of life. We must continue to make these investments a national priority.

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