Planning for long term key to economic health

Thanks to the vision of President Dwight Eisenhower, the United States has been a global leader in transportation, which, in turn, has given us a world-class military and provided a stage for every American to access economic opportunity. But lately, our infrastructure has failed to keep up, largely due to funding uncertainty with the Highway Trust Fund and a lack of long-term authorization bills. While the United States struggles to maintain the existing conditions of our transportation system, our global competitors are greatly outpacing us in their infrastructure investments.

American businesses rely on an efficient and reliable transportation network. More than 250 million vehicles traverse the highway system each year, and businesses require a reliable transportation network to operate efficiently. But every day, nearly 20,000 miles of the nation’s highway system slow below posted speed limits or experience stop-and-go conditions. This type of congestion has a quantifiable, negative impact on America’s businesses and our global competitiveness.

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Each year, the nation’s transportation system moves nearly 18 billion tons of goods, valued at nearly $17 trillion. Given the connected nature of the supply chain, congestion in one part of the country has ripple effects throughout the rest of the network.

Unfortunately, congestion is becoming more and more of a problem for American businesses. The American Society of Civil Engineers rates our nation’s roads a “D” and our bridges a “C+,” yet our nation’s investment in this foundational transportation network is not keeping up with our needs.

As we are all aware, the federal highway program is operating on a short-term extension that expires at the end of May. With this deadline soon approaching, my staff has been working with Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D-Calif.) staff on a long-term bill that will give our partners the certainty they need to plan and construct important transportation projects. Our states, industries and economy need long-term authorizations that ensure funding and allow for the planning of big, long-term projects of regional and national importance.  The conservative position is to prevent short-term extensions. As history showed us after nine extensions between the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2005 and the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) in 2012, we lose a dramatic amount of the Highway Trust Fund’s resources, when we fail to achieve longer-term funding bills.

Today, we sit at a crossroads. We could take the responsible course and pass a long-term reauthorization of MAP-21, or we could kick the can down the road and find short-term patches that continue the uncertainty facing our partners. I believe we can do better.

Our infrastructure investments are a partnership between the federal government and the states. This duty is outlined in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which charges Congress with the responsibility to tend to the nation’s commerce between the states and to establish arteries to facilitate such commerce. 

This is why on Wednesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold its second hearing in the 114th Congress on the need for a long-term transportation reauthorization, where members and witnesses will explore the link between a world-class transportation system and economic productivity. Our witnesses will offer a perspective from not only state leaders, but also hometown business leaders that depend on our roads and bridges to move goods, create jobs and contribute to our nation’s economy. The committee will also look at the importance of the federal government partnering with and empowering states to help meet their infrastructure goals.

As chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, I am committed to doing the right thing and keeping Congress’s end of the bargain to pass a fiscally responsible, long-term transportation bill. As we continue to explore and debate this legislation, let us remember the words of James Madison, written in No. 42 of the Federalist Papers, “Nothing which tends to facilitate the intercourse between the states can be deemed unworthy of the public care.”

Inhofe is Oklahoma’s senior senator, serving since 1994. He is chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee and also sits on the Armed Services Committee.