By Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood - 02/17/11 11:06 AM EST
Our roadways connect people with school and jobs. They carry products of agriculture and industry to market. They remain the world’s envy.
Simply put: No modern interstates, no modern United States.
Yet, today, our transportation system has reached a crossroads. America’s highways will always be essential avenues for travel and transport. But we can no longer rely exclusively on a marvel of 20th century engineering and construction to guarantee 21st century economic growth, opportunity, and competitiveness.
This week, President Obama unveiled his blueprint for America’s next six-year transportation bill. It provides the vision and funding to rebuild crumbling roads, bridges and transit systems, while spurring economic development and job creation with investments in the safest, fastest, most reliable ways to move people and products.
I know that we can get this legislation passed and to the president’s desk. After all, transportation is a bipartisan issue. It is one area in which the American people expect Democrats and Republicans to join together in the common good.
I also know that completing this legislation is one transportation project that America cannot do without.
By 2050, the United States will be home to 100 million additional people — the equivalent of another California, Texas, New York and Florida. If we settle for the status quo, our next generation of entrepreneurs will find America’s arteries of commerce impassably clogged, and our families and neighbors will fight paralyzing congestion.
To make room for infrastructure investments, Obama’s 2012 budget proposes the lowest relative level of domestic spending since President Eisenhower was in office six decades ago. It charts a course to $400 billion of deficit reductions during the next 10 years. Every department is tightening its belt.
At the Department of Transportation, Obama’s budget slashes red tape, consolidates more than 50 programs and includes reforms that will accelerate project delivery and empower local communities.
Of course, our major objective is to make investments in tomorrow that expand economic opportunity today. We are building bridges between Americans who need jobs and jobs that need doing.
The president’s budget keeps us on track toward a national high-speed rail system, with its $8 billion investment in 2012 and $53 billion investment during the next six years. It increases resources for highway and bridge improvements by 48 percent, and for affordable, efficient and sustainable bus, streetcar and transit systems by 126 percent.
The president’s budget includes a $50 billion commitment to fuel the engine of economic recovery in the short term, and a $30 billion National Infrastructure Bank that will finance significant projects over the long run. It also unleashes innovation and competition with a new $32 billion grant program called the Transportation Leadership Awards.
Since safety is — and always will be — our top priority, Obama’s budget backs our mission to prevent traffic crashes with ongoing campaigns against distracted driving and drunk driving, and to promote seat-belt use. It requests more support for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration so it can enforce commercial bus and truck safety, as well as new authority for the Federal Transit Administration to oversee rail-transit safety.
Finally, Obama is dedicated to doing all of this without passing on another dime of debt to our children and grandchildren. For the first time, transportation expenditures will be subject to “pay-go” provisions that ensure the dollars we give out do not exceed the dollars coming in.
During the last two years, I have traveled across the country and listened to the concerns of the American people. They are asking us to meet our responsibilities, just as our parents and grandparents met theirs. That is exactly what Obama’s plan would accomplish.
Now we have choices to make — not between policies on the left or right, but between an economic recovery that rolls forward or slips backward. We must decide whether to invest for the future or to continue relying on the infrastructure of the past. We must decide whether to do big things or to do nothing. If we choose wisely, our legacy, too, can be an economy on the move and a future that America is prepared to win.
LaHood is secretary of the Department of Transportation.