Let’s reap the benefits of investment

On Labor Day, President Obama continued his efforts to restore jobs and rebuild the foundation of the nation’s economy when he announced a proposal to invest $50 billion in transportation infrastructure to improve and expand our nation’s roads, bridges, transit systems, railways and runways. This proposal recognizes the important link between investing in infrastructure and the nation’s long-term economic growth and competitiveness.

The Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has been working to transform our nation’s transportation programs. The president’s proposal shares the committee’s objectives of restoring our surface and air transportation systems to a state of good repair, increasing energy efficiency and relieving the road and rail congestion that is crippling our economy.  


By providing this down payment now, during a slow economy, we will reap the added benefit of getting more bang for our buck.  Bids for surface transportation projects are coming in about 15 to 30 percent lower than before the recession. By acting now, we will be able to repair and build more roads, bridges, transit systems, freight facilities and runways with the $50 billion investment than if we wait until the economy improves. And the jobs created by this investment will help ensure the economic recovery strengthens in the months and years ahead.

For evidence of the economic dividends to be had from infrastructure investments, one need only look at the success of H.R. 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The committee has undertaken an unprecedented effort to track the use of the transportation funding provided by the Recovery Act.  Through direct reporting from grant recipients, we know the $38 billion in highway, transit and wastewater formula investment contained in the Recovery Act created or sustained nearly 350,000 direct, on-project jobs during its first year of implementation and provided total employment of nearly 1.2 million jobs, including direct, indirect and induced jobs. Across the nation, 18,365 highway, transit and wastewater infrastructure projects have broken ground, totaling $33.9 billion — that is 89 percent of the available formula funds.  Within this amount, work has been completed on 8,965 projects, totaling $7.1 billion. Forty-five states have started construction on 100 percent of their Recovery Act wastewater projects, and 40 states have begun work on at least 90 percent of their Recovery Act highway projects.

In total, direct job creation has resulted in payroll expenditures of $3.8 billion, Federal taxes paid totaling $780 million and has saved the nation $644 million in unemployment checks. 

Beyond these infrastructure investments of the Recovery Act, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the Recovery Act as a whole had even more far-reaching effects. During the second quarter of calendar year 2010, the most recent quarter for which data are available, CBO estimates the Recovery Act in its entirety lowered the unemployment rate by between 0.7 percentage points and 1.8 percentage points. CBO further explains that the Recovery Act increased the number of people employed by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million and increased the number of full-time-equivalent jobs by 2 million to 4.8 million compared with what would have occurred had Congress not passed the Recovery Act. CBO also makes clear that the Recovery Act raised real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) by 1.7 percent to 4.5 percent.

The president’s call for moving a long-term surface transportation authorization will ensure that when the nation fully emerges from this devastating recession, we will have the policies in place to build a 21st century surface transportation network that unites goods with markets, workers with their places of employment and connects consumers to the goods and services that improve their lives.  

President Obama is the first president in recent memory to make renewing our national infrastructure a central point of his administration. The bold vision and long-term approach to planning and investment that the president has laid out in his proposal are exactly what is needed to achieve this goal.  

I look forward to working with the president and my colleagues in Congress to deliver a transportation network that will foster decades of economic prosperity across the nation. This is a time for leadership and new ideas that will put Americans back to work building the infrastructure of tomorrow.

Rep. Oberstar is the chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure