“Without an adequate transportation system, the nation‘s economic growth is at risk.” --Janet F. Kavinoky, executive director, Americans for Transportation Mobility Coalition
So we know the U.S. transportation network is a mess - overused, overstressed, and way out of date. And it‘s going to take hundreds of billions of dollars we don‘t have (at last check, the U.S. deficit is nearing $9.5 trillion. That‘s with a ‘T‘ people) to not only fix it, but also actually expand it to carry the expected volume of people and goods without massive gridlock.
(Construction progresses on the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge outside Washington D.C.)
At the risk of flogging a dead horse, I‘ll repeat the above synopsis in more detail here - tallied up very well by the just-released report “The Transportation Challenge: Moving the U.S. Economy,” published by the Americans for Transportation Mobility Coalition (ATM), and the National Chamber Foundation of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“If the U.S. declines to invest in transportation infrastructure and ignores the transportation needs of key industry sectors, our economy will become less productive and less competitive,” warns Janet Kavinoky, ATM‘s executive director. “The U.S. transportation system is failing to keep pace with the demands of a 21st century economy and a piecemeal approach to improving the nation's transportation infrastructure no longer works.”
She notes that countries like China are building highways and rail lines, developing ports, and constructing airports while the U.S. transportation system erodes meaning the margin of the U.S. competitive advantage is shrinking. Now, granted: it‘s a whole lot easier to lay down a transportation network in a country ruled by a virtual dictatorship, and one that doesn‘t adhere to even a tenth of the environmental rules and regulations in the U.S.
But without investment in transportation infrastructure here in the U.S. guided by new policies, the study says our transportation system will fall further behind the growing demand of five major economic sectors -- agriculture and natural resources, manufacturing, retail, services, and transportation -- that account for 84% of the U.S. economy.
(Photo courtesy of the Texas Transportation Institute.)
Given population growth, shifting demographics and steady economic growth, a high-performance transportation system is a necessity. The U.S. population is projected to grow from 300 million today to 380 million people in 2035, while the economy is likely to double over the next 30 years, as is demand for freight transportation, the study found. Expanding demand and shrinking capacity for both freight and passengers across every mode of transportation raises fears about increased congestion, less reliability, and higher costs, it says.
OK: so what do we do? The report urges policymakers to become much more strategic in planning and investing in the U.S. transportation system. If we do not, our transportation system will become a competitive disadvantage for U.S. industries, and it will be harder to sustain the growth of our regions and the national economy.
What‘s that translate into? Here are some of the report‘s recommendations:
-- Greater emphasis on economic needs and issues, including attention to regional mobility, in formulating national transportation initiatives.
-- Development of a national consensus among citizens, businesses, and political leaders on the importance of increased investment in transportation infrastructure.
-- Immediate attention to the approaching deficit in the federal Highway Trust Fund.
--Greater emphasis on investments in a national freight transportation program that would implement highway, rail, and marine transportation improvements to benefit commerce.
--More public investment in infrastructure, using all potential revenue sources, including user fees and other revenues collected at different levels of government.
--Increased use of financing and credit options including tax credits and public-private partnerships, to leverage an estimated $200 billion in private capital available for transportation infrastructure investment.
Another thought that‘s been floated as a way to gin up more transportation infrastructure funds is the concept of “congestion pricing.” New York City recently saw such a proposal go down to defeat, but one that I think is deserved. My own opinion here: if you want to raise taxes DEDICATED (I stress) for transportation infrastructure repair and expansion, fine. Throw tollbooths up all over the place to collect that money, forcing traffic to a crawl even on good days. Forget about it.
(Photo courtesy of the Texas Transportation Institute.)
That‘s why I think the New York State Legislature rejected New York City‘s proposal to charge drivers a fee to drive into parts of Manhattan during most daylight hours. The American Trucking Association (ATA) in particular didn‘t like the plan because truck drivers would have paid $21 per weekday, while auto drivers paid just $8, to drive in Manhattan below 60th Street between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Truckers have to make deliveries: commuters can choose other forms of transportation.
“Like many areas of the United States, New York‘s transportation networks are strained, and the city is searching for a solution to its problem,” said Bill Graves, ATA‘s president and CEO, said after the proposal‘s defeat. “But congestion pricing schemes are unfair, ineffective and ignore our real transportation needs. While there is a need to heavily invest in infrastructure, congestion pricing does little to relieve congestion and is merely a revenue raiser.”
One thing is for certain: we need to generate some serious coin to bring our transportation infrastructure up to snuff. That would mean more taxes and cuts to a lot of other federally funded initiatives. We may not like these ideas, but frankly, there‘s not a lot else we can do. “We have only one option: Invest now, or pay later,” says ATM‘s Kavinoky. That‘s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth right there.