Transportation infrastructure matters. It matters to our economy, our communities, our health and our safety.
Our nation’s surface transportation system brings jobs and new opportunities, enables communities to grow, connects us to our friends and family, and joins all sectors of the economy to customers at home and abroad.
That is why one of my top priorities as ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is to develop a bipartisan surface transportation reauthorization bill.
The legislation is more than building our roads and bridges. It can help strengthen a recovery from a pandemic that has devastated communities across this country. Transportation infrastructure can drive economic growth while creating jobs and improving the quality of life for all Americans.
The Environment and Public Works Committee has a strong record of developing a surface transportation reauthorization bill in a bipartisan manner. Last Congress, we were successful in passing one out of committee 21-0, which reflected give and take on certain issues.
Recently, I met with President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, along with several of my colleagues, in the Oval Office to discuss this issue and the need to develop legislation in a bipartisan way.
To achieve this goal, we need to make sure any surface transportation reauthorization bill provides for long-term investment, gives states flexibility, and expedites the delivery of projects to improve the safety and resiliency of our roads and bridges, among other principles.
Federal investment along with investment from state and local governments and the private sector is essential to meet our current and future transportation needs. A multi-year surface transportation reauthorization bill will provide certainty to states, giving them the confidence to make investment decisions and carry out projects that address these needs. We need to be fiscally responsible and thoughtful with spending levels, and avoid partisan lightning rods.
Address communities' diverse needs
It’s also important that the legislation address the diverse transportation needs of rural and urban communities. As the top Republican on the committee, part of my job is to provide a policy framework that recognizes the different transportation needs across the country while balancing important national goals. It’s critically important that we do not create a prescriptive, one-size-fits all approach.
How states choose to prioritize their needs will be different. This is where flexibility comes in.
I strongly support using core formula programs as the primary way to delivery federal funding. These programs give states like mine the flexibility to use the funds to address unique transportation needs.
Any new programs, especially competitive grant programs, that could potentially take funding away from core formula programs, must allow for all states to compete fairly and put forward innovative ideas.
The surface transportation system is what binds us together. It’s through this connected system of roads and bridges that basic necessities have been delivered to hospitals, pharmacies and grocery stores to help combat the pandemic.
Help drive innovation in travel
We must keep the federal interest focused on providing a connected network of roads and bridges to ensure that all communities and the economy can thrive.
We also should be forward leaning when it comes to tackling the transportation needs of today and tomorrow. Driving innovation will be critical to supporting the surface transportation system of the future.
It will also aid in our efforts to reinvest in the existing system. An example, from my state of West Virginia, is the recent announcement from Virgin Hyperloop to build and operate a certification facility in Tucker and Grant counties.
This partnership between a West Virginia coal community and Virgin Hyperloop — a company that is taking us into the future with transportation technology — demonstrates how leaning into innovative approaches incrementally and thoughtfully can deliver economic growth.
I am optimistic that we can move a bipartisan surface transportation bill across the finish line, but I want to temper my optimism with a word of caution. The strong bipartisan support that exists will not extend for a multi-trillion dollar package stocked full of ideologically driven, one-size-fits-all policies that tie the hands of states and communities.
I stand ready to be a partner in advancing infrastructure legislation in a bipartisan way. We’ve done it before, and we can do it again. After all, we share the same goal of getting a bill across the finish line that addresses the transportation needs of our entire nation.
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Orginally appeared in USA Today on March 5, 2021.