Save America from falling apart

Our roads, bridges and public transportation systems are the lifeblood of our communities. They connect us to one another, get us to work and back home to our families. A functioning system of streets and highways is vital to a strong economy and global economic competitiveness. Investing in transportation infrastructure creates jobs and makes our streets safer and communities more vibrant.

Unfortunately, the current federal investment for infrastructure is at a 20-year low, and far from adequate. The United States is falling apart and behind.

In fact, once known for having the best infrastructure in the world, we were ranked 25th for overall infrastructure quality in 2013, behind countries such as Germany, Barbados and Oman. And the resulting costs are piling up. Congestion cost the U.S. economy more than $120 billion in 2013 in wasted fuel and productivity. Maintenance and repairs due to damage from rough roads alone costs the average motorist more than $350 a year.

Bad roads are job killers. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that a failure to improve our infrastructure will cost the U.S. economy nearly 900,000 jobs by 2020.

Take our home states as examples — more than 400 bridges in Oregon and more than 2,000 in Ohio are deemed structurally deficient. Though these bridges are in desperate need of repair or replacement, state officials are forced to delay all but the most urgent work due to the uncertainty of federal support.

There is a looming transportation funding crisis before us. The authorization of America’s main source of funding for maintaining and repairing our nation’s transportation network, the Highway Trust Fund, expires on May 31. There have been 32 short-term fixes, including extensions and continuing budget resolutions, since the last time this funding was authorized with any long-term certainty.

This pattern of repeated extensions has a significant impact, causing project delays, cancelations and postponed planning at the state and local level. The resulting uncertainty is putting thousands of American jobs at stake while our roads and railways crumble.

As it stands, the Highway Trust Fund is set to run out of money in July. That’s when the latest transfer from the general treasury fund is used up. Since 2008, Congress has borrowed more than $65 billion from the general fund to make up the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, just to maintain current, inadequate funding levels.

A short-sighted approach will not solve this problem or make the needed investment any less expensive. This is not a partisan issue. Members on both sides of the aisle are calling for action and have offered proposals to remedy the situation.

We have both championed legislation this year to address the Highway Trust Fund (see proposals by Renacci and Blumenauer).The federal gas tax, the main source of revenue for the fund, has lost 40% of its value since 1993, resulting in revenue shortfalls that have got us into this mess. While our politics and the specifics of our proposals may differ, we have each offered plans to eliminate the threat of the uncertainty caused by short-term patches that plague Congress. We both strongly agree that a long-term, viable solution must be implemented to meet the current and future needs of our roads and bridges; they’re too important to put today’s problems off to tomorrow for a 33rd time.

The time for Congress to address this looming cliff is now. We should roll up our sleeves and get to work on finding a long-term, sustainable solution to give the American people the infrastructure they deserve and the jobs the economy needs. If not, we’ll be into the next administration with no solution, states will have put off more much-needed projects, the gas tax will be worth less and less in today’s dollars, and we’ll remain on this slippery slope, a crumbling bridge to nowhere.

We will continue to work with our colleagues in Congress to give America what it needs — a long-term reauthorization of the Highway Trust Fund to make our families safer, healthier and more economically secure.

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