A Publication of WTVP

Now more than ever, America needs to reinvest in our rails, roads, highways and bridges. We live in a globally connected world, and it is vital that Illinois and the United States have a 21st-century infrastructure strategy. This can be solved by doing what every president for decades has been able to accomplish—passing a long-term highway infrastructure reauthorization.

The need for a long-term transportation authorization is clear to any American who drives a car or truck, rides the rails, or flies in an airplane. Our aging infrastructure risks creating a safety hazard for Americans. The American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE) gives our transportation infrastructure a grade of “D,” and a recent federal report estimated that more than 11 percent of the nation’s bridges need timely repairs to avoid unsafe structural deficiencies.

For the last couple of years, highway funding has been authorized for only short increments at a time. This does nothing to create the certainty states or the construction industry need as they consider new, multi-year infrastructure projects.

What America’s infrastructure needs is not another one-time shot in the arm to fill a few potholes, buy new signs and pave some roads, but rather, a long-term, fully-funded highway bill to create jobs now and help grow our economy in the future. One-off measures like the stimulus bill or President Obama’s current, one-time-only proposal provide only for superficial things like resurfacing at best, offering no catalyst whatsoever for new economic growth. This is in direct contrast to the benefits of a multi-year highway bill that provides financing and certainty for major road and bridge construction and reconstruction projects that leave lasting economic benefits.

I say “fully-funded” and “paid for,” because a bill of this magnitude should adhere to both principles. I have been advocating for a way to pay for the bill by using revenues from new oil and gas leasing combined with the current revenues people already pay at the pump via the motor fuel tax. This would help boost production and demand for American-made energy, lower energy cost, and at the same time, ensure we have the money to pay for vital investments to our country’s highways and infrastructure.

At the end of October, I visited North Dakota’s Bakken Shale, an oil and natural gas field that has shown a clear way forward when it comes to domestic energy production and job creation. During my visit, I learned the town of Williston’s biggest struggle was not creating jobs, it was finding enough people to fill them. There is not a town in America that wouldn’t want to be in that position. I believe that energy havens like the Bakken Shale show there is a way forward by coupling domestic energy production and economic growth, all while being done in a safe and responsible manner.

A new highway bill will not only put people back to work now, it will also help lower the cost for businesses who manufacture goods and transport their merchandise to reach worldwide customers. Transportation backlogs increase costs for small businesses and hurt job creation and economic growth. The ASCE reports that the cost of failing to invest in the nation’s roads and bridges would total $2.1 trillion in lost economic growth by 2020, costing 877,000 jobs. It went on to find that congestion by 2020 could cost us $276 billion a year in lost time and inefficiencies. As a result of using more fuel, lost productivity and accelerated auto wear on worsening roads, the overall cost to a family’s household budget would be $1,060 a year.

Nothing is more costly than delaying maintenance and repairs, and our current infrastructure must be properly maintained. That is one side of what needs to be done. Additionally, we also need to build the new highways, bridges, rail, airport expansions and water transportation to meet the needs of our people and help spur a growing economy. Few things, for example, are proven to create more permanent jobs and growth than the opening of a new highway.

A long-term transportation authorization will help make America more competitive in the global marketplace and create jobs in all sectors of our economy. This is true here in Illinois, with manufacturers and farmers who are literally growing grains and putting their products directly on ships on the Illinois River so they can sell on the world market. With the passage of the Panama, Colombia and South Korean free trade agreements, it’s more important than ever to ensure we are investing in our infrastructure to help move those U.S. products to new markets.

If we can lower the cost of doing business here in the United States, we can help attract more high-paying manufacturing jobs in our country. That is good news for a weak economy and stagnant unemployment rate. A long-term highway bill isn’t a silver bullet that will solve all our economic woes, but it can begin to pave a way to better days. iBi