Commonsense infrastructure legislation can help restart our economic engine
© Thinkstock

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, our economy was purring like a finely-tuned engine. Unemployment, at 3.5 percent, had hit a five-decade low. Unfortunately, the global health crisis caused that engine to seize up in the blink of an eye, and now we must get our economy back on track while saving and creating American jobs.

Our economy needs a jumpstart to get that engine churning again. Fixing our nation’s infrastructure can be the spark we need.

This Wednesday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will vote on a surface transportation bill. However, even though improving our roads and bridges is a bipartisan issue that Democrats and Republicans can usually work on together, Democrats have put forward their own costly, heavy-handed, partisan “My Way or the Highway” bill.

ADVERTISEMENT

That’s why my Republican colleagues and I plan to introduce the “STARTER Act: the Surface Transportation Advanced through Reform, Technology, & Efficient Review Act” later this week.

This commonsense legislation reflects the principles we were ready and willing to bring to the table. Our bill reauthorizes surface transportation program funding for the next five years, before those programs expire in September. That commitment of long-term infrastructure investment will allow states to create and implement construction plans and move forward with important road, bridge, transit and other projects. If Congress lets these programs shut down, necessary improvements and the jobs they support risk getting idled nationwide.

Our bill not only makes an investment in the country, it’s much smarter about how we invest our scarce resources, based on several key principles.

The STARTER Act ensures flexibility for our states and communities, which understand their individual needs more than the federal government, and puts more responsibility into states’ hands to direct resources to their biggest needs. Especially now, with every state so uniquely impacted by the coronavirus, flexibility is paramount.

Another priority is reducing project delays and costs caused by inefficient environmental reviews. Our bill modernizes these necessary but outdated regulations. Time is money, so cutting red tape that holds up or kills projects has an impact akin to increasing funding and lets workers get back on the job improving our infrastructure.

ADVERTISEMENT

The STARTER Act prioritizes funding the core functions of our surface transportation system – fixing and improving highways and bridges and facilitating commerce – instead of chipping away at those critical functions with numerous new programs and mandates for special interests. And while the traditional core programs remain as important as ever, innovation has enormous potential to increase transportation and construction efficiency, enhance safety, improve the environment, and create jobs. The STARTER Act prioritizes incorporating innovative technologies to improve infrastructure, from large cities to rural communities.

In fact, 71 percent of public road lane-mileage is in rural America, and crashes and fatalities on rural non-Interstate roads occur at more than double the rate as all other roads. However, rural communities often don’t have the same resources, expertise, or technology as urban areas. Subsequently, infrastructure needs in smaller communities, like mine in Missouri’s 6th District and many others, can get left behind. The STARTER Act ensures greater equity for all communities and supports greater mobility options for rural citizens to get to their jobs, doctor appointments, and other destinations.

Ultimately, the only way Congress can help jumpstart the economy through infrastructure is if Democrats and Republicans pop the hood, roll up their sleeves, and get to work together.  We should be able to do this because transportation is normally a bipartisan issue.  Republicans are ready to discuss our priorities that will be laid out in the STARTER Act. To get our economic engine revving again, we need partnership, not partisanship.

Sam GravesSamuel (Sam) Bruce GravesMissouri Rep. Sam Graves wins GOP primary OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House approves .5T green infrastructure plan | Rubio looks to defense bill to block offshore drilling, but some fear it creates a loophole | DC-area lawmakers push for analysis before federal agencies can be relocated House approves .5T green infrastructure plan MORE represents the 6th District of Missouri and is the ranking member for the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.