Rendell and Inhofe: Expand investment in infrastructure
July 19, 2010
Posted by Matt Dempsey Matt_Dempsey@epw.senate.gov
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Op-Ed: Expand investment in infrastructure
By Gov. Ed Rendell and Sen. Jim Inhofe
July 19, 2010
Infrastructure is the least sexy word in the English language. Yet it's one of the most important.
Finding common ground between Republicans and Democrats is increasingly difficult. But one thing that most Americans - and politicians of all persuasions - can agree on is that infrastructure is vital to our economy and quality of life.
Therefore, we hope Congress can come together to pass a responsible highway bill that is paid for and will increase jobs, aid the economy and improve Americans' quality of life as soon as possible.
For infrastructure is really about the quality of life we want for ourselves, our families and our communities. It affects our lives each day.
It's the roads and bridges we drive on, the schools we learn in, the trains we ride on, the water we drink. It's the energy grid that powers our TVs and refrigerators and the dams and levees that protect us. Like the skeleton in our bodies, it is the framework that every other important thing is built on.
Without a strong and vibrant infrastructure, our nation will fall behind our competitors in productivity - and lose the high quality of life Americans have enjoyed for decades.
America needs to get moving and make investing in our nation's infrastructure a priority. Right now, the United States is spending only 2.5 percent of its gross domestic product on infrastructure. That pales in comparison with China's 9 percent, Europe's 5 percent and India's 4.6 percent.
The good news is that more than 90 percent of Americans believe that investing in our infrastructure should be a priority. What they don't support is throwing money into the same old government programs - many of which were devised 50 years ago.
The public is clamoring for more accountability and transparency in how tax dollars are spent. Accountability, to ensure the best projects are completed the right way, on time and within budget. Transparency, to demonstrate measurable results. As elected officials, we are working to rise above partisan rancor and identify ways to deliver infrastructure that can provide reliability and predictability for daily life.
Take transportation. Many of today's programs are not equipped to address increased traffic volumes. So Americans waste 4.2 billion hours and 2.8 billion gallons of fuel each year sitting in traffic. That's equal to nearly one full workweek and three weeks' worth of gas for every traveler.
Substandard road conditions, obsolete road designs and roadside hazards are responsible for nearly one-third of the 37,000 U.S. highway fatalities each year. This is particularly true for the more rural areas.
From 1980 to 2006, the total number of miles traveled in cars increased by 97 percent; in trucks, by 106 percent. Yet over that same period, the number of highway lane miles grew by only 4 percent.
The 2005 federal highway and transit funding bill that provides about 40 percent of spending expired almost a year ago. It has been limping along under a series of extensions.
The remaining 60 percent of spending comes from state, county and local governments, which, generally speaking, have been forced to slash transportation investments as a result of the current economic crisis.
It is no wonder the public is fed up with governments' inability to take action and meet the challenges of upgrading and modernizing our transportation systems.
To provide the kind of infrastructure that Americans need and deserve, we must find innovative ways of paying for it. One tool - private investment - must play a larger role in delivering projects.
Instead of creating obstacles to private investment, as some in Congress are proposing, we must embrace the private sector to help leverage scarce federal and state dollars. Many states are already doing this with public-private partnerships structured to address public needs while protecting the public interest.
It is time for Republicans and Democrats to work together to get America moving again. We are committed to joining our colleagues - in Congress and in the states - to provide the level of investment necessary to deliver the infrastructure that Americans need and deserve.
We ask our colleagues to stand with us and pass a robust, reform-minded transportation bill this year.
Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania is the co-chairman of Building America's Future. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) is the ranking member of the Committee on Environment and Public Works and a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee.