Rockefeller and Lautenberg introduce new transportation infrastructure bill
March 04, 2013
So far in 2013 there has been a flurry of activity regarding transportation infrastructure on multiple fronts.
Here are a few quick examples:
-“The President’s Plan to Make America a Magnet for Jobs by Investing in Infrastructure” introduced by the White House in mid-February;
-the Department of Transportation’s National Freight Advisory Committee; and
-an atypical triumvirate of Washington power players—President Barack Obama and two always-at-each-other’s-throats power brokers representing business and labor—U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka—all backing a “Fix-it-First” infrastructure improvement program, which is a core component of the aforementioned White House plan
But not to be outdone are Senators Jay Rockefeller IV (D-WV), Senate Commerce Committee Chairman, and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Chairman of the Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security Subcommittee whom last week introduced a bill—The American Infrastructure Fund Act of 2013—that they said would leverage federal investment to rebuild and expand transportation infrastructure and create American jobs.
At the heart of the bill is a $5 billion fund that would incentivize private, state and regional investments in transportation projects around the country by providing eligible projects with financial assistance.
The major aspects of The American Infrastructure Fund Act of 2013 include:
-establish within the Department of Transportation (DOT) a Fund designed to leverage federal dollars to incentivize private investment in transportation projects that maintain American economic competitiveness, which would be authorized at $5 billion for fiscal years 2014 and 2015;
-using a variety of tools, such as loans and loan guarantees, to provide financial assistance to eligible projects that would be evaluated in an objective and transparent manner to encourage private, State, regional, and local entities to make capital investments into these critical projects;
-defining eligible types of projects including rail lines, marine ports, pipelines, airports, highways, bridges, public transportation systems, and other transportation-related projects. The Fund would be designed to allow it to broaden its investment portfolio in the future into other infrastructure projects, including telecommunications, energy, and water projects; and
-authorize a multimodal National Infrastructure Investment Grant program within DOT at $600 million for fiscal years 2014 and 2015, which would provide funds to build new or improve existing transportation infrastructure.
As previously proposed bills and plans have done, this one is also replete with good ideas and concepts to rebuild what needs to be rebuilt but to also help spur economic growth as well.
Given the interminable partisan bickering in Washington, D.C, much of which has simply morphed into “noise” by many, good ideas and welcome and can often be quick to notice.
What has not been slow to notice, clearly, have been the ongoing stops and starts regarding our nation’s transportation infrastructure and how to properly execute on a plan to again make it a national asset.
Funding, if course, is always an issue and will continue to be. We all know the federal gasoline tax has not been raised for some time now, right? Grin.
But it really is not a laughing matter at all.
As the Senators point out, investment into U.S. transportation infrastructure has “lagged in recent decades and America has developed an infrastructure investment backlog.” They were quick to point out, too, that the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimates a cumulative 5-year investment need of $2.2 trillion into the country’s rails, roads, bridges, ports, transit systems, and other infrastructure.
What’s more, the ASCE gave U.S. infrastructure a “D” grade. And on top of that, it estimates that if this investment backlog is not dealt with in a meaningful way (i.e. if the money is not there, which more or less is the current predicament), then the U.S. will cumulatively lose more than $3.1 trillion in GDP and $1.1 trillion in total trade. Significant numbers to be sure.
It is not all doom and gloom, though, we all know what the challenges are and really have for some time now. Legislation and calls for action are good steps. What is needed now is execution. Last summer’s MAP-21 was a step in the right direction. Now we need Washington to keep it going in the right direction. Is that asking too much? Stay tuned.
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