Senator John Thune, The HillWith the increased demand on our nation’s vast transportation network, it is becoming increasingly clear that more needs to be done at the federal level to ensure that our transportation system is safe, well-maintained and upgraded to meet future needs.
The government plays an important role in funding transportation infrastructure. While the most recent transportation reauthorization law that Congress passed in July 2005 (SAFETEA-LU) included record funding for our nation’s highway, bridge and transit needs, the purchasing power of the gas-tax user fees collected at the pump have declined significantly. Since December 2003, construction material costs such as asphalt, concrete, steel and diesel have increased by more than 50 percent, which has made it increasingly difficult for states across the country to adequately address the infrastructure needs that exist.
As Americans conserve fuel and change their driving habits in the face of record gas and diesel costs, the federal government can expect to see decreased revenues collected from fuel taxes. It is now more important than ever that we find alternative solutions to meet our nation’s infrastructure needs. It is time to think outside the box — and outside the Highway Trust Fund. It is crucial for the federal government to come up with innovative ways to pay for America’s tremendous infrastructure needs.
That is why I have been working in a bipartisan manner with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on an innovative infrastructure-funding bill, the Build America Bonds Act, which would assist all states in addressing the significant number of critical infrastructure projects that states are currently unable to complete due to a lack of funding. Our legislation would provide states with $50 billion in federal transportation funding over six years.
The Build America Bonds Act would create a one-time bonding program, which would help states fund various transportation projects across all modes of transportation including roads, bridges, transit, rail and waterways. Instead of earning interest, bondholders would receive tax credits aimed at encouraging infrastructure development. The bonds would be available to companies and individuals for purchase at different amounts, great and small, providing all Americans with the opportunity to invest in upgrading America’s transportation infrastructure.
The revenue created from the sale of Build America Bonds has the potential to create and sustain over one million jobs. Keep in mind, this funding would be supplemental to the funds that states currently receive from the federal gas tax. Additionally, to ensure that the Build America Bonds are directed to the projects with the highest priority, our legislation would prohibit congressional earmarks and leave the decisions to each state department of transportation.
The Build America Bonds Act is about generating economic growth, improving transportation infrastructure, and ultimately saving lives through enhanced transportation safety without a tax increase. Significant transportation needs across the country underscore the tremendous need for this legislation.
The estimated cost of improving existing highways and bridges amounts to over $155 billion annually. In addition, the American Society of Civil Engineers has noted that over the next five years $1.6 trillion in investment from the federal government, as well as state and local governments, will be needed to keep our nation’s current transportation system up to date.
Infrastructure improvements made possible through Build America Bonds would enhance safety and have the potential to save a portion of the 12,000 lives lost each year due to poor road conditions and deteriorating bridges, not to mention the accidents prevented due to enhancements across other modes of transportation.
A diverse group of business, labor, and transportation infrastructure associations support the Build America Bonds Act. While it is clear that significant resources are needed when it comes to addressing our nation’s transportation infrastructure backlog, Sen. Wyden and I believe that our proposal holds great promise. I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle as we look for solutions to improve our nation’s transportation system. After all, an efficient and reliable transportation system is critical for our nation’s economic health — both now and into the future.
Thune is a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
You can also view this OpEd on The Hill website athttp://thehill.com/op-eds/special-reports-transportation-2008-07-09.html