Commentary: Faster, Better, Safer Transportation for the 21st Century
Thomas J. Donohue, President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The failure of the U.S. transportation network to meet the needs of a growing population and economy is already having an impact on everything from safety to the environment, from quality of life to economic growth. We must immediately reform the approach we take for funding, planning, and building infrastructure so that we can keep people and goods moving across the country and around the world.
Evidence of failure is overwhelming. Safety suffers as a result of poorly maintained roads that contribute to a third of the almost 42,000 fatalities that occur each year on our highways. The environment is adversely impacted by the 2.9 billion gallons of fuel wasted annually as a result of congestion. Congestion also diminishes our quality of life; Americans lose a total of 4 billion hours annually in traffic jams. And in the global economy, our transportation infrastructure is quickly becoming a competitive disadvantage.
A serious effort to modernize our infrastructure comes with the realization that existing funding is insufficient to meet our needs. The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission recommended an annual investment of at least $225 billion annually over the next 50 years to finance a surface transportation system capable of sustaining strong economic growth and individual mobility.
However, infrastructure investment in 2005 only totaled $155 billion, a $70 billion shortfall. Solving this problem is going to take more money, and every option must be on the table, including privately financed projects and user fee increases. We must also stop the diversion of dedicated transportation funds to nontransportation purposes.
To address infrastructure needs, it will take a fundamental shift away from the piecemeal approach currently employed to an approach driven by economic need and regional mobility. Policymakers must put the needs of citizens and the economy ahead of local political interests by directing financial resources to where they can do the most good, while reducing funding for pet projects.
If we take the right course, our transportation network will be the foundation of a 21st century economy that can move people quickly and safely, easily handle a growing volume of freight, and minimize the release of pollutants.
In this election year, it is crucial that voters ask candidates about their plans for modernizing our infrastructure. No matter who is elected this November, the next president and the next Congress will have the responsibility for rebuilding America. Our prosperity and our way of life depend on it.