Infrastructure isn’t sexy, but it’s a hot topic

Posted on
3 min to read

The past few months, we’ve been highlighting recent developments in the fight to find a fix for our nation’s failing infrastructure. In recent and upcoming weeks, debate and defense have ramped up as the President’s proposed budget and his infrastructure reform bill, GROW AMERICA, makes its way through Congress. As Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Bill Shuster said, “We drive, we fly, we ride; everyone is in the transportation business.”

As part of the auto industry and fellow infrastructure users (that’s every one of us), we wanted to provide you with the recent background and further details to help you understand the process and what’s at stake.

Failing Grade Infrastructure

The issue of America’s crumbling transportation infrastructure has been a hot topic for several years now, but it’s been mostly talk and little action. On Monday’s “Last Week Tonight,” John Oliver stated, “The lack of political urgency on this is insane,” with regard to America’s crumbling infrastructure, from the dangerous Tappen Zee bridge in New York to killer potholes in Oakland, California. Infrastructure is important, but “not sexy,” said Oliver, who then showed clips of several politicians stating the same.

Long-standing issues

Both physical condition and congestion, which stifles commerce, are top roadway concerns. Nearly one-third of our roads are in poor condition and almost a quarter of our bridges are “functionally obsolete.” Studies also support the need for a solution to congested roadways as population booms and public transportation becomes increasingly scarce and underfunded.

But this isn’t news; Two years ago in 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers assigned America’s Infrastructure a D+, signifying, “The infrastructure is in poor to fair condition and mostly below standard….Condition and capacity are of significant concern with strong risk of failure.” What’s brought this issue to a crisis point at the start of this year is that the Highway Trust Fund, our federal funding source for transportation, will be bankrupt by May 31, unless Congress finally takes action.

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The President’s Plan

In his State of the Union Address on January 20, 2015, President Obama called for the passage of a bipartisan infrastructure plan as part of the Fiscal Year 2016 budget. The plan designates $94.7 billion in Department of Transportation (DOT) funding to support projects critical to improving and securing the safety of America’s infrastructure, relieving roadway congestion, improving public transportation, and creating millions of good-paying jobs. The proposed funding would support a bill the President sent to Congress in April 2014, the GROW AMERICA Act, Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities.

The plan is a six-year, a $478 billion transportation funding reauthorization proposal, which would supplement current funds from the Highway Trust Fund in combination with a tax on (currently untaxed) U.S. corporate earnings accumulated overseas. The Administration predicts that this plan will provide State and local governments with the confidence needed to begin construction projects to shore up failing infrastructure, creating millions of jobs.

“The problem is, though,” said Oliver, “When our infrastructure is not being destroyed by robots and/or saved by Bruce Willis, we tend to find it a bit boring.” There has been cause for optimism, however, with these federal plans, dialogue, and growing bipartisan support on federal funding in anticipation of the looming deficit.

Taking Action

The DOT released a study, “Beyond Traffic,” on February 2, 2015, designed to differentiate the need for long-term infrastructure planning from current political positions and concerns. “It is a survey of where we are and where current trends may take us if left unaddressed,” said Secretary Foxx in the introduction.

DOT Secretary Foxx has been aggressively campaigning for the GROW AMERICA Act, promoting dialogue across the nation, including last month’s four-day bus tour through Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. In each community he visited, Secretary Foxx listened, learned, and commented on the area’s individual infrastructure issues, and used them to highlight the great and diverse need across the nation for an infrastructure overhaul. You can read about each step of the trip on the DOT Fastlane blog.

According to the ASCE blog, House representatives Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-NJ), Reid Ribble (R-WI), and Tom Reed (R-NY), sent a bipartisan letter with signatures from 284 representatives to House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, emphasizing their united support for a sustainable transportation funding solution.

The concern is growing, however, from the President and DOT Secretary Foxx to the ASCE, as neither support nor agreement on a long-term solution and budget appears to be forthcoming from Congress as the May deadline looms. The largest point of contention appears to be the price tag, leading to the debate raging not as to the need for reform, but as to the scope and size of the threat.

Building the case

In a DOT budget hearing on February 26, Secretary Foxx addressed the U.S House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development regarding the President’s FY 2016 Budget Request for significant investments in the country’s infrastructure. Subcommittee Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart said of the proposed budget, “That’s beyond ambitious.” Chairman Diaz-Balart added, “I’m asking you to work with me to sift through all of this to determine what needs to be done, but just as importantly, what can be done for the fiscal year 2016 appropriation.”

Secretary Foxx proposed that the FY 2016 budget request, combined with the GROW AMERICA Act, is needed to modernize and increase the safety of our transportation system through technology and process innovation, as well as close the looming infrastructure funding deficit. Foxx criticized the government’s inability to pass long-term surface transportation funding, citing over six years of “patches” rather than fixes as contributing to state and local hesitation to commit to long-term repair projects. This lack of confidence in federal reimbursement isn’t surprising considering the swiftly dwindling Highway Trust Fund, which is supported by revenue from a gas tax that has not been adjusted since 1993.

In the ongoing absence of federal action, many states have come up with their own plans to fund local transportation infrastructure, such as raising state gas taxes and implementing new technology designed to improve travel safety, encourage use of public transportation use, and help navigate road conditions in real-time.

How we stand today

The fight continues this week, with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and Secretary Foxx set to testify before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation regarding the FY 2016 budget request for funding. As we move closer to enacting a plan, we’ll keep you updated on further developments. To stay informed, join the conversation with us on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, for updates as they occur.

“…the bridges and highways we fail to repair today will have to be rebuilt tomorrow at many times the cost.” – President Ronald Reagan, 1982

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