THE BLOG
07/31/2014 10:47 am ET Updated Sep 30, 2014

Add Horsepower to America's Economic Engine: Pass a Real Transportation Bill

In the next few hours, Congress can transform a crisis into a remarkable opportunity. The American economy is like a racehorse waiting at the gates, ready to burst onto the track and leave all its competitors in the dust. Yesterday's GDP report provides further evidence that our economy has the makings of a Kentucky Derby winner -- if only we give it the opportunity. We can provide Americans with economic opportunity, create jobs, and expand our businesses through a bipartisan multi-year transportation bill that rebuilds our crumbling infrastructure.

First, we must defuse the ticking time bomb. Unless Congress acts, in a few short weeks, the Highway Trust Fund will go broke. This could lead to 700,000 pink slips for transportation workers and the delay of 112,000 roadway projects nationwide -- in the middle of the construction season, no less. The direct and indirect effects of inaction would be atrocious.

There is enough agreement to immediately prevent this transportation shutdown, but if at the end of the day, all Congress can muster is a can kicked down the road -- a bare minimum, short-term funding bill -- then we will have wasted a great opportunity. The House version of the Highway Trust Fund is a patch that extends funding until May of 2015. This short-term bill, while better than allowing the Highway Trust Fund to dry up, prevents businesses and local officials from planning infrastructure projects in the most cost-effective fashion. The start-and-stop nature of the funding stream disrupts plans more than a bumper-to-bumper commute on a Los Angeles Freeway. This uncertainty also scares away private investors who could play a more valuable role in financing construction.

For these reasons and more, leaders in business, labor, academia, and government are calling for a long term transportation bill. In a resoundingly bipartisan 79-18 vote, the Senate presented a way forward. Their highway extension would maintain funding until December 19, during the so-called lame-duck season of Congress -- which provides the best opportunity for crafting a long-term bill. Removed from the intense partisan pressures of the campaign season, Congress can focus on policy. I am confident that legislators cannot just meet this new deadline, but also rise up to the challenge of a multi-year transportation bill.

Instead of starting from scratch, we should look to the Department of Transportation's proposal: The GROW AMERICA Act. This legislation has been introduced in the House by my friend, Congressman Tom Petri of Wisconsin -- a Republican. This is fitting. After all, 58 years ago, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill into law establishing the Interstate Highway System. This system has been a model for the rest of the world. Since that time, our nation's infrastructure has deteriorated, receiving a D+ rating from the American Society of Civil Engineers' 2013 Report Card, and has become a drag on our economy.

The GROW AMERICA Act makes critical investments to improve our infrastructure and create good jobs. Mark Zandi, who served as Republican Senator John McCain's economist, calculated that every dollar invested into our nation's transportation infrastructure adds $1.59 to our economy. The Act also offers innovative bipartisan ideas to finance and accelerate construction projects, such as strengthening State Infrastructure Banks. It recognizes the evolution of transportation by increasing funding for energy efficient public transportation, freight, and R&D.

As a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I look forward to discussing these ideas and hearing more proposals, from both sides of the aisle. It's time for Congress to step up and show the country that we can still work together to move America forward.

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