Editorial: Invest in infrastructure
A Journal News editorial 7:46 a.m. EDT May 14, 2014
President Obama's visit Wednesday will temporarily snarl traffic. But ignoring the need to invest in the nation's infrastructure could cause more problems, for much longer. The president will use the Tappan Zee Bridge as backdrop to pitch a smart infrastructure investment plan.
Worried about traffic tieups when President Obama stops by the Tappan Zee Bridge Wednesday to pitch his transportation plan? Just think about the fallout of failing to replenish and expand the federal Highway Trust Fund.
Obama is stopping by the Lower Hudson Valley to discuss the GROW AMERICA Act, or Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America. The bill includes $302 billion in funding for the four-year transportation reauthorization proposal.
A four-year plan would provide more funding certainty for big and complicated projects (like the construction underway on a new Tappan Zee Bridge, which will provide Wednesday's backdrop). Plus, the proposal increases the funding pot by about 37 percent, so the nation can finally tackle more projects, and create more jobs.
Time is of the essence. Spending authorization for the Highway Trust Fund expires Sept. 30; the fund, though, is likely to run out of money by late summer.
Congress needs to reauthorize spending, and also find a way to replenish the highway fund. The latter issue, though, presents a political hurdle. The Obama plan would employ "business tax reform" – i.e., closing tax loopholes – to pay for the fund, a tough sell in the Republican-led House of Representatives. A Senate bill would hold spending at current levels; a House plan would slash the kind of federal grants that New York is tapping to build a new Westchester-to-Rockland crossing.
Time to act
If Congress takes no action, more than 112,000 ongoing projects planned over the next year will be put on hold, along with the nearly 700,000 jobs that such work would support, according to the Department of Transportation.
Likely a deadlocked Congress would prefer to push through stopgap funding and address major decisions after Election Day. But that just feeds the poor planning on infrastructure that has long stymied better road repairs and stalled smart public transit improvements.
One in four bridges require significant repair or cannot handle today's traffic, and 45 percent of Americans lack access to transit, according to a White House report, "The Economic Importance of Investing in our Infrastructure."
"This may be the most dire moment the American transportation system has faced in decades," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told the media Monday. "As soon as August the Highway Trust Fund,the account that pays for building and repairing our nation's roads, will start bouncing checks."
Plan for a few hours of traffic headaches caused by the president's visit to Tarrytown. Then take a serious look at the need for long-term planning and funding to help the nation keep up with aging infrastructure and invest in projects that can improve travel and commerce for decades to come.
Get details on The GROW AMERICA Act (for Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America) at http://www.dot.gov/grow-america/