Time to focus on infrastructure, transportation

Time to focus on infrastructure, transportation

The first 100 days of a presidency set the tone for what an incoming administration will prioritize during its time in office, and the president’s initial policy agenda will lay the groundwork for what will become the next four — and potentially eight — years of legislating on Capitol Hill. Understandably the Trump administration will focus on many of its campaign promises, and Congress must be ready to assist with thoughtful solutions to the problems ailing our country. We should insist that part of the initial agenda be American infrastructure, because waiting until other big-ticket items are accomplished will only ensure that these priorities will never be addressed.  

The United States is rapidly falling behind the rest of the developed world in the quality and effectiveness of our transportation infrastructure. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2015–16 Global Competitiveness Report, the quality of United States’ infrastructure ranks 13th in the world, down from seventh as recently as last decade. Similarly, the American Society of Civil Engineers contends the failure to address our crumbling infrastructure will cost the economy $4 trillion in gross domestic product, resulting in a loss of 2.5 million jobs by 2025.

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America’s transportation needs are changing dramatically, and Congress must be proactive in creating a regulatory environment where state and local governments, in association with federally leveraged resources, can solve transportation problems quicker and at reduced costs. Congress took a major step in this direction with the bipartisan passage of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act in 2015. Going forward, we must look to leverage emerging technologies and install a regulatory structure that is prepared for the ever-changing landscape of innovation.

The failure of government agencies and regulators to adequately address changes in the aviation sector is especially glaring. Drone technology has the capability to dramatically change how goods and services are delivered, how public utilities serve their customers and how first responders effectively respond in times of peril. Already behind the eight ball, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will surely miss out on technologies that will come more and more rapidly as our expertise expands. This is no surprise given the decades-long failure of the FAA to modernize and move to the next generation of air traffic control. A major priority of any infrastructure package must include the removal of air traffic operations from its government inhibitors.

America continues to grow and regardless of how we expect our expanding society to commute, the indisputable fact is that we need to increase capacity across all modes and bring the current system into a state of good repair. Achieving this feat will require removing regulatory restraints from state and local governments and leveraging the powers of private dollars and expertise. However, we cannot deny that significant investment from the federal government is a part of the solution.

We have an opportunity to assist the incoming president, fulfill his promise to America and build a 21st century infrastructure. The tools are available, and we have a nation full of thoughtful innovators, private investors and committed public servants eager to address infrastructure needs that have long been neglected. Failing to prioritize these investments in the first 100 days would be a mistake this administration and Congress may long regret.

Denham is the chairman of the House ­Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials. He represents California’s 10th District.