Skip to comments.Transportation infrastructure: How to Improve the "Transeconomy?" Invest in Infrastructure Now!
Posted on 03/24/2010 2:21:52 PM PDT by Willie Green
WASHINGTON-The world is in the passing lane of transportation infrastructure spending and innovation while the United States is on the shoulder, with a broken axle in the breakdown lane.
Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, wants to change America's gears. On the heels of historic health care reform, Oberstar is imploring the nation to reach deep into its pockets for a six-year, $450 million surface transportation bill (with another $100 million for mass transit) and said he is "open to all ideas" on how to pay for it-except one.
"I'm open to all ideas except tolling for existing highways," Rep. Oberstar said. "We've paid for those highways once. We're not going to pay for them again."
Oberstar, speaking at the spring conference of the American Association of Port Authorities, said Europe and Asia are outspending us on infrastructure-and the results show. For instance, he noted a high speed train connects Paris to Brussels, 244 miles, in 45 minutes. By comparison, Amtrak's fastest train connects New York to Washington, 244 miles, in 2-1/2 hours "and I guarantee you it goes 135 miles per hour for three minutes," Oberstar quipped.
"What's wrong with us?" Oberstar asked. "We need to do these things. What are we, a third world country? We're not doing things right in this country. We have to change the way we're doing things. We need a new Interstate Highway process."
Two recent commissions on that process have called for $106 billion a year investment over the next 20 years to maintain the current system, compared to the $80 billion a year current spent combined on highways and bridges by all levels of government.
"We need to get people moving again," Oberstar said, "and get them out of traffic. What are we leaving for the next generation? What investments are we making that makes their lives better?"
The nation is ignoring ocean and water shipping as well, said Oberstar, who called for a "new understanding" of our relationship with water to help modernize maritime shipping
"Our great cities were great ports before they were cities," he said. "Ports are a driving engine of our economy," he said, noting they produce 13,000 jobs, generate $23 billion and generate $3 trillion in revenue, or 15 percent of the nation's Gross Domestic Product.
"In the maritime business, you cannot afford to think small," Oberstar implored port officials. "You have to think bigger."
Invoking the memories of the great clipper ships and using quotations from poet Lord Byron, Oberstar, a 35-year member of the T&I committee, strongly is pushing a six-year, $450 billion bill to replace the $286 billion expired "SAFE-TEA-LU" highway bill. He also wants to spend $100 million on mass transit in that span.
Oberstar noted that when President Dwight D. Eisenhower started the Interstate Highway Act in 1956, the federal fuel tax was 3 cents and the price of fuel was 30 cents a gallon. Today, the federal fuel tax on gasoline is 18.4 cents (23.4 cents on diesel). It has been unchanged since 1993 and has not kept pace either with inflation or the price of fuel, now approaching $3 a gallon.
Logistics costs have dropped from 17 percent of GDP to about 10 percent now, Oberstar said. But that is about 2 percent more than it was in 1997.
"It's going in the wrong direction," Oberstar said.
UPS has said for every five-minute delays in its shipments, it loses $10 million dollars. General Mills has said it loses $5 million for every mile per hour below the speed limit its trucks can travel. The Texas Transportation Institute has said congestion costs the nation $87 billion in lost productivity.
"Those are the real costs," Oberstar said. "What does it take to wake up this country?"
Port officials at the AAPA spring conference spoke strongly in favor of Oberstar's six-year highway reauthorization bill for transportation, and soon. They said a major federal transportation commitment is needed to relieve bottlenecks that mostly hamper truck transportation, which is expected to double in the next 12 years.
The entire federal-aid highway process has been hamstrung lately. In mid-February, some state highway offices were forced to halt projects and lay off workers after Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., who is retiring after this term, threw what some transportation officials called a hissy fit and basically cut off all transportation funding for a brief period.
Currently, highway funding is being authorized through a stopgap bill that transfers $19.5 billion from the general fund into the Highway Trust Fund. The former six-year highway bill expired last Sept 30.
What is needed, state and federal transportation planners say, is a coherent, well-funded, multimodal transportation plan to help move freight.
"We have to have more capacity," said Larry L. "Butch" Brown, former mayor of Natchez, Miss., current executive director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation and president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). Brown said a modern multimodal transportation system is vital to any state's economic health.
He's even coined a new word-"transeconomy." Basically, that means a thriving freight sector combined with economic sustainability means jobs and growth-for localities, states and the country as a whole.
"Transportation and the economy-they go together," Brown said.
Brown said Mississippi's transportation and economy revolves around freight. "If you don't have a good transportation system, you don't have a good economy," Brown said. "A good economy thrives on having good transportation."
Brown respectfully disagreed with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's recent comment that the current transportation system "is built out," and all that is necessary is to preserve what we currently have. Brown said politicians and the public "take transportation for granted," and transportation is often thought of as a "stepchild." But without sufficient, steady and well-planned funding, the U.S. transportation system will continue to crumble.
"It's hard to be a stepchild," Brown said. "If we don't respond to the needs of the programs we have in place, we're going to lose them."
The current lack of planning and funding has international repercussions, according to Gary Doer, Canada's ambassador to the United States. Canada is by far the largest U.S. trading partner. Canada is the largest customer for goods from 35 American states, he said. (Mexico is the largest trading customer for the other 15 states).
"Canada is a trading country," Doer said. "Our ports are sustained by trade."
Canada has one-tenth the population of the U.S., and spends proportionately on its transport infrastructure. Since 2007, Doer said, the Canadian government has invested more than $2 billion in ports, and $4.5 billion in all transportation projects. By comparison, the U.S. spent $48 billion on transportation in President Barack Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, part of the economic stimulus package.
Canada is investing in future infrastructure projects, including the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) to improve security and congestion on the busiest U.S.-Canada trading route.
"Investing in infrastructure has long- and short-term economic benefits," Doer said, "A dollar spent today in transportation assets is extremely important for the future."
they cant invest our tax dollars in anything because they have already ripped off everything for generations to come.
Well, isn’t this why 0bama is putting in all of those high-speed railways?
And pay for it with....what?
Why do I care if paper trading New York yuppies have to go to the law paper scribbling DC faster? They’re all Blackberried, Acela internetted, anyways. Who would wast money on upper income DINKs that want the rest of us wage slave to subsidize them?
Amen.. Since telecommuting is the future..