Governors lobby DOT for transport plan
The U.S. government should develop a plan to better guide transportation policy and investment during the next decade instead of continuing to rely on annual budgets based on wish lists from various constituencies, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell told Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood last month.
Rendell spoke during a session of the National Governors Association annual meeting about the huge mismatch between the need to rehabilitate decaying infrastructure and the ability to pay for such investments.
Governors from northeastern states and North Carolina supported the need for a long-term plan so the public can understand why taxpayer dollars are needed for costly projects. Under the current approach there is little coordination among different modal programs as well as with states to develop integrated regional and national connections.
'If we were a business, we'd be doing an infrastructure plan. We'd be sitting down and mapping out a 10-year plan. Is there a sense in the administration to map out a plan through 2020? Take a look at what it's going to cost and plan a decade-long approach to doing this? Every one of the G-7 countries except us has had that type of infrastructure revitalization program. Japan and Germany each spent over a $1 trillion in countries that are a fraction of our size,' Rendell said.
The strategy should encompass highways, airports, seaports, high-speed rail, transit and freight movement, he said.
'Is there any of that long-term thinking going on about a comprehensive plan that will get America where it needs to be? The Oberstar bill is a good bill. But I'm not sure unless we develop that plan we can take this out of day-to-day partisan politics and actually get it done,' Rendell said. He was referring to a proposed six-year, $450 billion transportation reauthorization bill by Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar that remains idle in the House.
Surface transportation programs remain at status quo funding levels after the $286 billion SAFETEA-LU plan expired last September amid political gridlock on how to raise revenue for construction and safety programs, and the legislative focus on other pressing issues.
LaHood seemed surprised by Rendell's suggestion, but encouraged the NGA to submit a proposal to President Obama on organizing a long-range planning process that includes input from the administration and outside experts.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California expressed frustration that infrastructure neglect is causing the United States to lose its competitive advantage in transportation, which enables global trade. The United States spends 2.5 percent of gross domestic product on infrastructure, compared to India and China, which respectively spend 4.6 percent and 9 percent of their wealth on the foundations for economic activity.
The Obama administration is trying to jump-start a high-speed passenger rail network for the first time with an initial infusion of $8 billion in stimulus act grants plus another $2.5 billion in the current budget, while China has committed $300 billion to build high-speed rail around the country by 2020.
'We are not even competing in the same ballpark. In the meantime, our Congress can barely get around to renewing the surface transportation act, which is so minor. It's really just money that is meant to just upkeep and fill in the potholes and fix the signs, and stuff like that. Our Congress cannot even pass that. So how do we really move on to the big stuff?' Schwarzenegger said.
California has approved $70 billion in infrastructure investment during the past few years, including $11 billion for water systems that must be approved by voters in November.
California's investment has also attracted federal and private matching funds that expand the total available funding pool to $180 billion for roads, schools, housing, prisons, levees, high-speed rail and other physical assets.
Schwarzenegger, co-chairman of the Building America's Future coalition, said infrastructure should be a non-partisan issue that draws support from all sides. Building America's Future is supported by 17 governors and 80 mayors and local officials who are pressing Washington to invest more in infrastructure.
'Critics say we're spending money. But there's a difference here. It's fiscal foolishness if you think that this is more spending. This is investing in America's future,' Schwarzenegger said. 'Because whether it is bridges collapsing, water pipes bursting, or our levees crumbling, the cost of inaction is always much higher than the cost of action. And investing always pays off later on.' ' Eric Kulisch