Ed Talks: Federal Investment in Infrastructure & Transportation is the American Dream in Action
However, part of what has set in motion this legislation is widespread acknowledgement that states and localities alone cannot shoulder the expense of upgrading transportation. The network has capacity problems, aging roads and bridges, underfunded public transit, accidents and costly freight bottlenecks. Virginia had to launch a towing and recovery incentive program.
“Virginia’s economy takes a hit of up to $1,200 for every minute that drivers spend in traffic,” said Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Commissioner Stephen C. Brich. “Incidents are the number-one cause of congestion on I-81, so we can make a real improvement on that interstate by getting lanes reopened more rapidly.”
Whether it’s by ground, rail, air or water, America must have a transportation network that:
- is interconnected and safe;
- fuels regional economies;
- is fully funded;
- supports global commerce;
- provides access for all citizens;
- improves multimodal mobility;
- incorporates new technologies and long-term jobs; and
- can withstand climate impacts.
A single catastrophic weather event can have rippling effects. In one area where moving agricultural products, iron and steel is economically significant, the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigational System contains 18 locks and dams, and gateways/waterways such as the Tulsa Port of Catoosa, Port of Muskogee and the Mississippi River. That system faces close to $300 million in growing and backlogged maintenance.3
Projects Can Get the Greenlight
The ATM has helped focus on America’s transportation story by pointing out state-specific problems and opportunities. Project needs we’ve covered, spanning Kentucky’s Brent Spence Bridge to Miami-Dade’s Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit (SMART) Plan, are positioned to get federal funding.
But the investment needs everywhere are huge. Within Bucks County, Pa., the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) identified more than $400 million of outstanding bridge maintenance and roadwork to be done, including on heavily traveled areas in/on Yardley, 202, Route 1 and I-95. In Maricopa County, Ariz., new federal funding can help significant capital projects, which include light rail extension and I-10 and Loop 101 construction work, proceed.4
Notably, it is a different world than when the federal highway system was built, and America has to transition accordingly. Shifts we can’t overlook include e-commerce altering consumerism, people relying on public transit more, and COVID leading to our economy and jobs sector needing to be resuscitated.
Goods moved on America’s transportation network rose in value and tonnage from 2012 to 2017, according to the latest five-year version of the Freight Analysis Framework (FAF5) jointly released earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). Nearly 20 billion tons of goods worth almost $19 trillion moved on the U.S. transportation network in 2017.
In 2019, Americans took 9.9 billion trips on public transportation. Public transportation is an $80 billion industry that employs more than 448,000 people. Approximately 6,800 organizations provide public transportation in the U.S.5
“The coronavirus outbreak that began in February 2020 sent shock waves through the U.S. labor market, pushing the unemployment rate to near record highs and causing millions to leave the workforce. A year later, a full recovery for the labor market appears distant,” the Pew Research Center reported in the spring.
We know this legislation may not be 100 percent of what everybody wants. But it’s a fluid infrastructure investment bill and also a potentially sizable win for the American people and — despite our many interests — this ultimately matters in the long run.
President John F. Kennedy said “every accomplishment starts with the decision to try” and try we must.