By Chris Burroughs, Vice President of Government Affairs
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee met on Feb. 7, 2019 to discuss the current state of U.S. infrastructure, involving roads, bridges, waterways, transit systems, and airports. This was the first hearing of the committee for the 116th Congress, and opening remarks from Chairman Pete DeFazio (D-OR) commended the new members of the Committee. He highlighted how historically the Committee has been truly bipartisan, with members on both sides of the aisle working towards a common goal to address our nation’s infrastructure needs.
The focus of last week’s hearing was on the current state of infrastructure in the U.S. and how to fund the improvements beyond just repairs. This notion drew from the deteriorating waterways and clean water systems in localities like Flint, MI, crumbling roads, tunnels, and 60,000 structurally deficient bridges that are currently impacting the nation. Committee members on both sides, along with the panel of witnesses comprised of Gov. Tim Walz (D-MN), Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, agreed that real action needs to take place quickly to address the issue at hand. Testimony from the panel went on to reveal how failing infrastructure not only causes road, rail, and air delays, but also bridge collapses, which lead to the loss of lives.
The financing for these projects is still up for debate on what exactly is the best route for obtaining the required funding. An increase in the gas tax was mentioned several times, noting that it had not been adjusted to the average cost of living since 1993. Chairman DeFazio made it clear that an additional gas tax would only provide a temporary fix to the highway trust fund. Mayor Garcetti, added that several states, including his own, have already taken it upon themselves to pass an increased gas tax. A Vehicle Miles Traveled tax (VMT) was also highlighted, which addresses the problem of equality among electric vehicle and gas/diesel drivers. However, this option leaves open the debate between government intrusion and privacy.
Additionally, Public-Private Partnerships were mentioned. However, it was noted that access to some may be limited based on rates. Further, it was suggested that private companies may not want to invest in PPPs due to limited profitability without complete privatization. Regardless of how the highway trust fund is replenished, it is evident that a major uphaul in infrastructure must be made soon.
Chairman DeFazio raised an important question aimed at LaHood: if the states are taking it upon themselves to revitalize infrastructure, then why does the federal government need to get involved? LaHood stated that it is not only a lack of funding, which that the states are able to provide to fix the vast number of issues, but there also needs to be a high threshold of safety standards that only the federal government could establish across the board. Further, LaHood noted that beyond the immediate result of fixing infrastructure, this has the potential to be viewed as a jobs bill, opening the potential for new projects, thus employing additional workers. On this note, he mentioned that much like the massive infrastructure projects during President Eisenhower’s administration, there is potential for a spike in employment rates, bringing the money spent back to the constituents.
TIA Government Affairs has been busy meeting with members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and it will continue to advocate for a fully funded permanent solution that is dedicated to addressing our nation’s transportation and infrastructure needs.
If you have any questions, please contact TIA Advocacy at email@example.com or 703-299-5700.