By: U.S. Senator John Barrasso, M.D.
September 14, 2017
Across America, we have aging roads, bridges, dams and water systems. Our crumbling infrastructure is threatening public safety, slowing economic development and costing us all.
A recent study by the American Society of Civil Engineers found that American families are losing $3,400 per year in disposable income because of crumbling infrastructure. This comes in the form of wasted time in traffic, higher grocery bills or unreliable water and electricity services.
It is time we address our long-neglected public works.
As chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, I am committed to passing infrastructure legislation that will improve lives, protect families and strengthen the economy.
Our committee has held seven hearings this year on improving our nation’s highways, bridges and other structures. These hearings have proven that different communities have different needs. We cannot use a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
Private financing has proven successful for projects in big cities. We should seek private partners to help finance major port and highway projects to help boost our larger urban areas.
This same private investment is typically less effective in rural communities. Big-ticket projects are less common in rural areas like my home state of Wyoming.
Less populous places may need to rely more on public financing. We’ve used these models in the past, and they’re a good way to get the most bang for the taxpayer’s buck if we use them responsibly.
Programs like the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) and the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act allow us to multiply the impact of our federal funds. TIFIA has been around since 1998 and yields what economists call a 40-to-1 rate of leverage. A single taxpayer dollar produces the equivalent of a $40 investment.
Improvement projects in rural communities are possible when we combine federal, state and local dollars. These established funding mechanisms don’t require a new bureaucracy.
Rural states have seen the successes of the federal government contributing its share of funding through formula-based mechanisms that ensure these communities get a fair piece of the pie.
These funding programs help projects get done more quickly, without expensive delays.
Congress needs to make sure we are listening to rural communities and giving them an equal seat at the table as we address infrastructure.
Better roads and water systems across America help us all. We all buy goods that are transported on our nation’s highways through these communities. We all eat food from ranches and farms that rely on these water systems.
These projects will create jobs and strengthen America’s economy. They will expand opportunities for businesses by allowing products to reach markets more quickly and safely.
Legislation tackling America’s infrastructure needs must also address commonsense ways to speed up Washington’s bureaucracy. Our committee has heard testimony that the highest hurdles to starting roadwork are often government permits and approvals.
The director of the Wyoming Department of Transportation told the committee about a project that took 10 months to build but 10 years to permit. Lengthy delays like this run up project costs, slow needed improvements, and has left our country with failing bridges, dams and roads.
If we find ways to streamline government review processes, while protecting the environment and using local expertise, then we can start and finish projects faster. We can also do it for less money.
President Trump and Members of Congress agree on the importance of working together to fix America’s infrastructure.
The members of our committee are working to make infrastructure improvements a priority this year.
We are also working with the men and women who plan, build and maintain our roads, bridges, water systems and ports. These are the experts who know what needs to be done to keep America moving and prosperous.
If we can pass major infrastructure legislation, we will grow our economy and help ensure the health and safety of American families. Together we can find the best answers to our nation’s infrastructure needs. Together we can get this done.
Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.