President Obama is flying around the U.S. this week to highlight an updated version of a plan released by the White House back in February to, in his words, “rebuild our transportation infrastructure in a more responsible way.”
And while the President signaled support for a short-term funding “patch” for the soon-to-go-broke Highway Trust Fund (HTF) in a speech yesterday at the Turner-Fairbanks Highway Research Center in McLean, VA, he continues to push for a longer-term transportation infrastructure investment strategy.
[Photos of the President: ObamaDiary.com]
“The good news is there are bipartisan bills in both the House and the Senate that would help with a short-term fix. And I support that,” Obama said yesterday.
“At the very least, Congress should be keeping people on the job who are already there right now. But all this does is set us up for the same crisis a few months from now,” he noted.
The President added that “Congress shouldn’t pat itself on the back” for “averting disaster” by kicking the HTF can down the road for a few more months, either.
“Instead of barely paying our bills in the present, we should be investing in the future,” Obama stressed.
“We should have a plan for how we’re going to make sure that our roads, our bridges, our airports, our power grid, our water systems – how all those things are going to be funded, and do it in a responsible way so that people can start planning," he said. "That also means we can save more money – because we’re not doing it in stopgap measures.”
Some of the infrastructure issues cited in this most recent economic analysis released by the White House include:
- While there are more than 4 million miles of road, 600,000 bridges, and 3,000 transit providers in the U.S., over the past 20 years, total federal, state, and local investment in transportation has fallen as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) even as population, congestion, and maintenance backlogs have increased.
- The U.S. lags behind many of its overseas competitors in transportation infrastructure investment. In the most recent World Economic Forum rankings, the U.S. had in less than a decade fallen from 7th to 18th overall in road quality
- Some 65% of America’s major roads are rated in less than good condition, one in four bridges require significant repair or cannot handle today’s traffic, and 45% of Americans lack access to transit.
- The costs of inadequate U.S. infrastructure include: spending 5.5 billion hours in traffic each year, costing America families more than $120 billion in extra fuel and lost time; American businesses paying $27 billion a year in extra freight transportation costs; and with roadway conditions a significant factor in about a third of the more than 33,000 traffic fatalities suffered in 2013.
- For the trucking industry alone, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) calculates that highway bottlenecks cause more than 243 million hours of delay each year, at a cost of $7.8 billion annually.
Yet some are pushing back against the Obama Administration’s characterization of U.S. transportation infrastructure issues – especially in terms of calls to spend more money.
“As today’s House [of Representatives] vote shows, Congress is inching toward an agreement on a bailout of the HTF yet again taking the easy path and avoiding programmatic reforms that would reprioritize spending out of the trust fund,” Emily Goff, transportation and infrastructure policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation, told me by email.
“President Obama has little ground to criticize, however,” she added. “His GROW America Act is long on gimmicks, tax hikes, and spending increases, and it comes up woefully short on crucial reforms that would enable Americans to spend more time at home with their families and less time wasted in traffic on congested roads and bridges.”
Goff believes more innovative and “fresh thinking” can be found in other proposals such as the Transportation Empowerment Act, which would empower the states to address their transportation priorities, not those of federal bureaucrats or special interest groups in Washington.
“Those are the bold policy solutions Congress needs to turn to next,” she said.
As an aside, President Obama got a tour of the Turner-Fairbanks lab where he learned about V2V and V2I technologies and also took a spin one of the facility’s simulators [seen at left, iagain n a photo courtesy of the ObamaDiary.com].
“Automakers and government researchers [are] teaming up to create new technologies that help cars communicate with the world around them and with each other,” the President noted. “They can tell you if an oncoming vehicle is about to run a red light, or if a car is coming around a blind corner, or if a detour would help you save time and gas. And I got to test all this in a simulator. It was sort of like Knight Rider. I have to say, though, it was a little disorienting – I haven't driven in about six years.”
And if President Obama thinks that is a little “disorienting” he should try a full-on Class 8 truck simulator, with a 13-speed manual transmission to boot. THAT would offer him a challenge to say the least!