THE BLOG
01/23/2015 12:36 pm ET Updated Mar 25, 2015

The State of Transportation Infrastructure: Breaking the Stalemate on Progress

Getty Images

In his State of the Union address this week, President Obama again delivered a message to Americans that we can't sit still as the arteries of our economy - our transportation system - fall into a state of severe disrepair. While short on specifics, the president challenged lawmakers to get focused on reversing decades of neglect.

That's the good news. The bad news is two-fold. First, the president didn't offer a new way forward on transportation investments. And second, the Republican response did not even mention the word transportation.

The choice facing Americans and the people they've elected isn't just, as the president said in his address to the nation, deciding "who we want to be over the next 15 years," but also how we are going to get there. Right now if you're a working person just trying to get to work, a mayor trying to serve the needs of your constituents, or a multi-billion dollar corporation trying to compete in the global economy, your problem is the same: the transportation system you rely on is dangerously deteriorating.

As I said in my speech at the LAANE City of Justice Awards last month, the challenge we face in addressing this crisis is overcoming the ill effects from the single largest export coming out of Washington: failure. That failure is endangering the very foundation of the economy we are trying to rebuild.

It isn't enough to say, as the president did on Tuesday night, that "21st century businesses need 21st century infrastructure." Nor is it enough to say, as important as it is, "Let's pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan." Given the urgency and extent of our investment deficit, we can't simply rest on hope and the desire for action; we need to come up with clear paths to progress. And then we need to act on them because time isn't on our side.

Users are flocking to public transit systems but thanks to political inaction, services and jobs are being cut and passengers are left with over-crowded buses and trains.

Thousands of bridges are growing increasingly dangerous - and some are falling down - and highways are falling apart and doomed, it seems, to endless gridlock.

Amtrak keeps breaking its ridership records but congressional funding decisions force the company to use decades-old equipment and outdated infrastructure such as century-old tunnels.

As we approach 800 million air passengers a year flying on U.S. airlines, a lack of funding has forced us to rely on air traffic control technology from a bygone era, capacity-constrained airports, and a short-staffed FAA as we've failed to hire and train enough air traffic controllers, safety inspectors, and technicians to keep up with demand.

And take a look at the U.S. maritime sector, where middle-class jobs are disappearing in droves as too many politicians support policies that hollow out this critical industry. And too many of our ports can't compete in the global shipping industry thanks to nickel and diming by the people we elect.

If we ended this neglect we could also launch a transportation manufacturing renaissance across America because when we start building and modernizing our economy again, U.S. factories will start humming.

We need those in Washington to stop talking past one another about these vital issues. The president knows, and I know, that transportation and infrastructure have historically been issues where Democrats and Republicans, no matter their states or their backgrounds, have been willing and able to compromise. They've done it before - that's how some of America's grand infrastructure was built in the first place.

This must be the year when upgrading and modernizing our failing transportation system makes the checklist for every lawmaker in both parties. Indeed, the State of the Union and the other party's response are - or at least should be - about the hopes and aspirations of the American people. But with hope there must be progress on breaking the transportation funding stalemate that is harming American competitiveness, eroding our cities, and idling millions of jobs.