Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Abridged funding for infrastructure upgrades hurts all of us

Our nation's infrastructure is rickety, outdated and desperately needs upgrades. America's roads are in dire need of repair, costing the economy over $100 billion annually in lost fuel and time. The country's railroads are laughably obsolete and plans to upgrade them are pigeon-holed in a bureaucratic nightmare. Worst of all, the levees that surround our most vulnerable coastal regions are so decrepit that even the worst storm they've seen in 400 years should be viewed as better than a worst-case scenario, because the levees were weak enough to allow more damage. Why is this situation so severe?

The I-35 Bridge in Minneapolis after its sudden collapse in 2007.
The most important reason for this is the policy surrounding infrastructure dollars is significantly outdated. The gas tax, the primary financial mechanism for this, is just over 18 cents per gallon and has not been raised since 1993. Fuel efficiency in vehicles has been rapidly increasing, thus fewer coins are going into the Department of Transportation's coffers since we are using far less gas than a few decades prior. The fiscal elephant on the road won't get any smaller though: it is estimated that our infrastructure needs an investment of $3.6 trillion dollars by 2020.

Another roadblock to solutions lies in how transportation funding is implemented. Recently, Congress has taken up the disgusting practice of funding the very basic functions of government at the last possible minute. This also applies to transportation funding, which is absolutely crippling for any positive momentum in terms of infrastructure. Real infrastructure improvements rely on long-term planning, timelines that stretch over multiple years, rather than just lurch from month to month. Without stable funding, it is impossible to plan projects that are sorely needed.

Potholes on a road in New Orleans.
Investment in this area of our society is a wonderful idea. The return on investment is massive and it's easy to see why -- safer roads will lower insurance costs for drivers, putting more money in their pockets and the regional and national economies. Likewise for individuals in areas prone to severe storms or flooding, strong levees mean their home insurance will be much less expensive. Regional rail systems save folks money on their commute and drives up property values, increasing property tax intake for the municipality of residence. It creates scores of American jobs. The list of economic benefits goes on and on.

Unions like the Teamsters take a great deal of pride in our country. We're proud to build what makes America work and we would be thrilled to get more workers on the job making our infrastructure the best in the world. It's time for a bipartisan solution to do so.