- - Wednesday, March 21, 2018

In Congress, I have the privilege and honor of representing a district that truly lives up to Chicago’s nickname: The Crossroads of America.

The 2nd Congressional District is home to all six Class I railroads, a hopefully forthcoming third Chicago-area airport and an advanced road network that connects East, West and South. In our community, economic growth and jobs are directly related to and dependent on our transportation infrastructure.

Unfortunately, we have ignored infrastructure for too long leading to crumbling roads and bridges, gridlock and slowed economic growth.

When it comes to repairing our roads, bridges and infrastructure, we aren’t falling behind — we’ve already fallen behind. This puts our economy, health and national security at risk.

In the early days of the Trump administration, there was bipartisan hope for a bold infrastructure plan that would rebuild our crumbling roads and bridges while creating good-paying jobs. Candidate Trump had extensively spoken on the issue and looked poised to launch an aggressive initiative that all sides could support.

Unfortunately, his plan can best be described as “puny.” Instead of attacking the problem of dangerous roads and bridges, he’s offered unrealistic outlines, slashed investments in his budgets and allowed timelines to be repeatedly pushed back.

When the safety grade for America’s bridges is a C+, now is not the time for weak leadership.

Conversely, my Democratic colleagues and I are pushing for a better deal to rebuild America. Our proposal would make an historic $1 trillion investment in rebuilding our roads, schools, water systems and rural broadband capacity.

This investment will certainly have long-term gains as our rebuilt infrastructure will drive economic growth for a generation. It will also have the immediate impact of creating more than 16 million American jobs.

After decades of neglect, now is the time for Congress to boldly lead and make major investments that will create jobs, grow our economy and ensure a safe commute for all.

In addition to Congress‘ need to lead, it’s imperative that we provide certainty to local, county and state governments that the federal government is a willing, engaged and active partner in infrastructure programs.

As someone who’s worked at every level of government — village, county, state and federal — I know that local leaders cannot make the bold infrastructure investments that are so greatly needed without clarity from the federal government about what resources it’s willing to put on the table.

A small community of a few hundred families simply cannot move forward with a project costing billions of dollars without a committed and willing federal partner. This means that the current lack of a federal initiative means that no jobs are being created and that our roads and bridges crumble a little more every day.

This holds true as we move up the levels of government to the township, county and state level. With many communities still struggling after the Great Recession, an infusion of federal dollars are vital to jumpstart needed projects that have been on the books, sometimes for decades.

A great example is Chicagoland’s third airport. Decades ago, Chicago’s two airports reached maximum capacity, something that anyone who has experienced runway or landing delays at Midway or O’Hare can attest to. The solution is a third airport, slated for the South Suburbs.

In March of last year, Illinois took the first step with a Request for Information (RFI) proposal and multiple firms expressed interest. When we get this project done, it will create and sustain nearly 10,000 jobs in my community.

This South Suburban Airport is just one of hundreds, if not thousands, of good, shovel-ready projects that will create jobs, spur economic growth and set up long-term success stories. It’s time to take these programs from the drawing board and start putting them in the ground.

Rebuilding unsafe and crumbling roads and bridges is and should be a bipartisan priority. It’s time for Congress to set the pace, show real leadership and give state and local stakeholders the certainty to make big, bold investment that will drive our economy forward for generations.

Rep. Robin Kelly represents Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District. She is a co-chair of the Democratic Budget Group.

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