Sample Op-ed Oct. 29 Deadline: Congress is Stuck in Neutral While Our Transportation Needs Multiply

Rather than passing a long-term, fully funded bill to reauthorize highway, public transit, and highway safety programs, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives recently passed “short-term extensions” to the current legislation that keeps the Highway Trust Fund – which funds America’s federal transportation systems in every state – solvent. These extensions mean our transportation infrastructure has the bare minimum of funding until late October.

Congress’ repeated inaction flies in the face of our nation’s tremendous infrastructure needs and has a negative impact on every American consumer and business. The bring spot on the horizon comes from the fact that, in addition to passing the latest short-term extension, the Senate went a step further and also passed a six-year bill – a major step in the right direction.

The case is clear on our nation’s transportation needs – just read through the “Americans Deserve a Faster, Better Safer Transportation Network” publication (found here) by the Americans for Transportation Mobility (ATM) Coalition as well as the coalition’s Cost of Inaction overview. Yet extremist forces who have railed against the federal highway and transit programs for years continue to spread myths to confuse consumers and weaken the will of Congress to do the right things.

Their claims, to put it simply, don’t have the facts on their side. With our transportation needs so great, and Congressional inaction only making the situation worse, now is the time to get up to speed on the facts and share them with your elected representatives so their decisions relating to the HTF can be based on the truth rather than on extremist fiction:

FACT: America can’t afford NOT to fix the HTF or the transportation infrastructure it funds; the federal highway and transit programs are integral to the nation’s economic growth and the longer Congress takes to fix the problem, the more consumers and businesses pay to fix vehicles that experience damage because of deteriorating infrastructure. The average person is currently paying $8 a month in federal fuel user fee. Meanwhile, per household, the cost of deficient surface transportation is $1,060 per year, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. A 10 to 15 cent per gallon increase would mean an additional $4 to $6 dollars a month, a reasonable amount for users of the federal highway network to pay to maintain and progress this network so it is more efficient, reliable and safe.

FACT: Transit began receiving highway funding in 1982 under Ronald Reagan, when it became clear that congestion could not be addressed solely though roads—members of Congress from both parties determined transit was an essential piece of the solution. The bi-partisan MAP-21 gave a significant amount of discretion to state and local governments to decide into which modes of transportation and specific projects they would like to invest money they receive through the HTF. If state and local governments decided to invest funds provided into mass transit, they did so because they determined those were the projects that would improve the economy, livability, efficiency or safety in their communities.

FACT: The costs of highway and transit projects have escalated over the past two decades because everything is more expensive: the real purchasing power of 18.4 cents has slipped because of inflation and increases in wages and materials since 1993. Since the federal fuel user fee was last raised 20 years ago, the inflationary bite means that the current 18.4 cents per-gallon user fee is effectively worth about 11.5 cents today compared to when it was last increased in 1993. The WSJ has noted, “the tax buys about half the concrete, steel and other materials it did 20 years ago.

FACT: It’s well established that the HTF will become insolvent in 2015 if legislation re-authorizing MAP-21 is not passed and signed into law, meaning if Congress does not act, the federal government will slow or stop sending checks to state DOTs. The economic consequences of not being able to pay contractors and employees will send shockwaves throughout our economy. Already, seven states have announced they are delaying or canceling projects valued at $1.63 billion; a total of 19 states have expressed concerns about the feasibility of future transportation projects. The economic benefits of building infrastructure projects are clear:  for every $1 of federal highway investment approximately $1.80 to $2.00 in additional growth in goods and services follows. It is irresponsible for Congress – just because of the threats of extremists that seats will roll – not to act to prevent the negative economic impact – on communities across America and the economy as a whole – of inaction.

It is irresponsible for Congress not to act to prevent the negative economic impact of inaction on communities across America and the overall economy. Facts matter, and Americans deserve better than the current out-of-date highways, bridges and transit systems we currently have. Time is of the essence to write Congress to let them know we all support the facts.