- - Wednesday, July 23, 2014

America’s transportation and infrastructure system is the backbone of our economy. Growth and job creation all across the country depend on strategic placement and quality upkeep of our massive travel and transport capabilities. Advancements in technology and shifts in the economic culture are leaving an impression on the way we conduct business and the systems we use to facilitate commerce. And with the changing times, our transportation system is also in transition.

It is no secret that the Highway Trust Fund is on the road to insolvency. Right now, the route we are following is leading us down a dead end. Rather than continuing to rely solely on current funding sources or raising taxes, we must pursue new revenues generated by innovative options. Creative solutions are needed in order to meet our expanding needs. If we fail to update our methods, then the infrastructure that connects us as an economy and as a community will not be built.

Transportation is a complex system, and there is no single or simple answer. However, we can start by strengthening our current smart investments. When my father began our small family business, his goal was to stretch our money the furthest and invest in areas that would generate the most growth. Applying basic, smart business principles like leveraging the power of compound interest is a smart move in transportation funding.

In an era of bloated government spending, wise and calculated investments are crucial. Transportation is one area where the government makes a large impact and investments can be tangibly seen, touched, and used by every American. When infrastructure receives targeted investment, we benefit from it in a perceptible way every day.

Currently, the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) has been highly successful in covering the costs of transportation projects. It provides direct loans, loan guarantees, and lines of credit to finance national and regional surface transportation projects. Typically, highway projects receive the most assistance, but transit, railroad, and intermodal freight and port access initiatives are also eligible. Project sponsors include state and local governments, transit agencies, transportation authorities, and private sector entities.

Building on this program, I introduced the TIFIA 2.0 Act that will develop TIFIA into a sustainable, revolving fund that will continuously grow to fill our nation’s infrastructure needs. If implemented, every dollar loaned out through TIFIA could generate not only the jobs and economic growth that these investments effectuate, but also supply new funding to be recycled back into the transportation infrastructure arena for future projects.

Due to the process of utilizing MPOs and other localized entities, transportation projects get thoroughly vetted and prioritized to meet local needs. TIFIA allows state and local governments to procure the large-scale, user-supported public infrastructure projects they need, in a manner they choose, with financing options they can afford. Without the access to affordable capital that TIFIA provides, locally developed transportation projects of a certain size and complexity could be delayed, deferred, or require a greater federal role (re: more taxpayer dollars) in order to move forward.

An important aspect of transportation policy is empowering the states with more autonomy to channel federal dollars towards areas of actual need. The revolving fund established by the TIFIA 2.0 Act will expand the capacity of TIFIA to achieve these important goals by supporting projects that generate revenue. This newly generated revenue is then made available to the states again for reinvestment in new infrastructure. This revolving loan process will cause money to compound over time and exponentially increase money available for infrastructure investment.

Of course, this revolving fund must have built-in accountability for the American taxpayer. TIFIA 2.0 incentivizes early repayment of loans and rewards project sponsors that reduce risks to taxpayers by granting priority consideration to future applications by the sponsors that have received prior assistance and repaid their previous TIFIA loan in full.

Focusing on funding roads, bridges, tunnels, transit and intermodal projects, TIFIA 2.0 will generate new transportation revenues and attract new investment capital without raising taxes. It is critical that we efficiently and effectively leverage the funding that Congress provides so that taxpayers get more infrastructure for their transportation dollars. The process builds an innovative and accelerated project delivery process for users, while also providing cost savings to taxpayers.

Every American is affected by our transportation system. It drives our economy. It leads children to school and takes families back home after work. In the changing times, we are faced with building a future that will be sustainable and efficient. Our job is to streamline the process, make smart investments, apply basic business techniques, and drive the process to a more local level. In a time of tight budgets and advanced technology, we need smarter policies that will steer our massive transportation system in the right direction.

Rep. Daniel Webster (FL-10) is a family man and small business owner who is dedicated to serving Central Florida with honor and integrity. Webster is currently a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, where he serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and House Committee on Rules. He previously served as the Speaker of the Florida House (‘96-‘98) and Majority Leader of the Florida Senate (‘06-‘08). During his tenure in the Florida Legislature, he served for over a decade as Ranking Member of the Transportation Committee before serving as Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee and Chairman of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee.