A massive infrastructure plan is hung up in Congress on age-old disputes over spending and environmental regulations, but President Trump is hitting the road this spring to drum up public support to force lawmakers to get onboard.
"Infrastructure 2018: Moving America Forward — Land, Water and Air" is a Special Report published by The Washington Times Special Sections Department.
Apprenticeships — on-the-job opportunities for people to be paid while gaining relevant workplace experience and skill-set instruction — are believed to hold the key to filling some 350,000 open manufacturing jobs and an anticipated surge of millions of new U.S. jobs, including many in infrastructure sectors.
Last week I joined four other members of President Trump's cabinet to present to the Congress this administration's comprehensive proposal to rebuild and revitalize America's infrastructure for years to come.
World-class infrastructure is the pride of a prosperous nation. America is the greatest country this world has ever known — she deserves the greatest infrastructure. Unfortunately, our roads, bridges and tunnels have been neglected due to years of inaction. Our public lands have suffered a similar fate. As secretary of the Interior and chief steward of our public lands, I inherited a maintenance backlog of more than $11 billion in our national parks alone.
President Trump recently unveiled his plan to rebuild and revitalize our nation's crumbling infrastructure. Much attention has been paid to rebuilding roads and bridges, understandably so. Our roads and bridges form the essence of interstate commerce in this country and have for some time. Yet, as the president indicated, our infrastructure is more than just roads and bridges — it is also our water infrastructure.
Let's try an experiment. Head over to your next-door neighbor's, knock on the door and ask them this question:
America's infrastructure is a major part of our daily lives. It covers everything from the roads we drive on to the pipes that bring water into our homes.
America has always been a land of great builders — from Grand Lake in northeast Oklahoma to the Golden Gate Bridge and the inland waterway system, we've seen the dramatic economic impact that comes from investing in infrastructure. With the development of new technology of the 21st century, we would expect that the United States is well positioned to take on bold projects that would lead the world.
After decades of woeful underinvestment and short-sighted policy decisions, our country is finally having a long-overdue conversation about the state of our infrastructure. By and large, Democrats and Republicans in Congress, along with a majority of Americans, agree: The highways, bridges, ports, railways and waterways that so many of us use every day are in dire need of repair. There is also broad support for investing in our country's transportation network in order to more effectively and efficiently move people and goods from one place to another.
There is a mounting consensus within Washington, D.C., about the need to modernize the country's aging infrastructure. Leaders across nearly every political caucus acknowledge that maintaining the status quo is an inadequate means to support economic growth, improve quality of life or protect our communities. The big question is how to pay for the investment it will take to bring our systems up to citizens' expectations.
Now that the president has released his principles on infrastructure, it is up to him, as a builder who understands the role of infrastructure in our economy, to continue to lead on this issue and make it clear to the American people why such investments are so important.
Time is money. Escalating costs of infrastructure projects prove this point — especially when it takes an average of seven years (or more) to complete environmental reviews for major projects.
Americans and our economy depend on the safety and stability of our nation's roads, bridges, transit and water systems. The federal government's commitment to helping build and maintain those systems dates back to the beginning of our country.
For decades, Maryland has been plagued by some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation and the statistics bear this out: Our state has the second-longest commuting times in the country, and the National Capital Region is the most congested region in the nation based on annual delay and congestion cost per auto-commuter. It is not just time that is being wasted sitting in traffic, this is costing the state and our citizens real money. The statewide cost of congestion, based on auto delay, truck delay and wasted fuel and emissions, was estimated at $2 billion in 2015, an increase of 22 percent from 2013, and more than 98 percent of the weekday congestion cost was incurred in the Baltimore-Washington region.
Pennsylvania is at the center of the largest market in the world, and over the last several years our commonwealth has worked to make sure Pennsylvania's infrastructure can move goods and products to market so Pennsylvania businesses can compete globally.
Public transit leaders from across the country are speaking out and strongly opposing President Trump's deep cuts to public transit in the administration's fiscal year 2019 proposed budget. If fully implemented, these cuts would put at risk 800,000 jobs, including 502,000 construction and related jobs, and an additional 300,000 longer-term jobs associated with economic productivity, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).
Investment in infrastructure is coming at just the right time for America. Thanks to the leadership of President Trump, Washington is positioning itself to take long-overdue action on infrastructure. As the president and Congress work to assemble a package, their approach will be important.
No one can argue that our crumbling infrastructure — public or private — is up to the standards we should be setting for our economy and our great nation. The problems are enormous. Our transportation infrastructure network is in dire need of repair. With one in four bridges structurally deficient or obsolete, bridges are literally collapsing across the country because of overuse. And one out of every five miles of highway pavement is in poor condition, costing the average American more than $9 a day idling in traffic.
The United States' infrastructure network is quickly falling behind the rest of the world. This is why President Trump has made it a priority to invest and modernize the way we move people, goods and ideas. We must act now while there is a bipartisan desire to accomplish this goal; however, the political realities require us to think differently on how we move forward.
In Congress, I have the privilege and honor of representing a district that truly lives up to Chicago's nickname: The Crossroads of America.
In communities all over the country, commuters put up with heavy traffic and aging transit systems because they don't really have a choice. People need to get to work, bring their children to day care or school, care for an aging parent or simply attend to a few errands. We all rely on our infrastructure system even if we don't own a car or use public transportation. It impacts our economy and our quality of life. It is a key component of addressing inequality as well as creating a level playing field for all Americans and a pathway to sustainability. Yet our system suffers from neglect.
President Trump recently announced the framework for his infrastructure plan and I applaud him for not only recognizing the need to improve all facets of our nation's infrastructure but for also demonstrating the leadership needed to push forward this major initiative.
Warmer months are just around the corner, presenting an opportune time to visit a national park — and millions of Americans will do just that. But most visitors will be unaware that the parks they're visiting are buckling under a multibillion-dollar maintenance backlog, threatening the vitality of these national treasures — and hard-earned vacation dollars.
Our nation's water and power infrastructure is vital to our economy, yet is an often overlooked aspect of the Western way of life. Since its genesis in the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Reclamation's vision to construct multipurpose surface storage water projects has transformed barren landscapes, fostered one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world and helped communities thrive economically.
If every time a truck crossed state lines, that truck needed to install new equipment, or the driver had to follow different sets of confusing, conflicting and expensive regulations, would the fact that the road was in perfect condition cancel out the high cost and inefficiency? Of course not. The federal regulatory framework that supports safe and efficient interstate commerce is as important as the physical infrastructure in keeping our nation's transportation system running.
When we talk about fixing the crumbling infrastructure in our country, many think about our roads and bridges, which absolutely need our attention and investment. But one of the lesser-known issues with our nation's infrastructure involves our vast network of rivers and waterways used to transport commodities across the country.
We have seen the crumbling bridges, downtrodden roads and declining railway systems. It is no secret that our infrastructure is both outdated and underfunded. President Trump drew attention to these deficiencies during his campaign, and those on both sides of the aisle agree — we have to do something about the state of the failing infrastructure in the United States.
Access to high-speed broadband is no longer a privilege in 21st century America — it's a necessity. Americans should be able to find a good job, launch a new business, or take college classes regardless of where they live. But in the United States, nearly 40 percent of rural Americans lack access to high-speed broadband. That means a serious infrastructure plan for the 21st century is not complete without addressing the broadband connectivity issues facing our country.
Our country is at an inflection point, a time of enormous technological and economic potential in which the economy has the capacity to astonish in terms of increased productivity. Think of 5G networks; smart cities; seamless, driverless vehicle clusters; and the explosion of new jobs that entrepreneurs would create around these investments.
Many of you are probably reading this from a tablet or a phone. Using Wi-Fi or high-speed internet has become a common part of your day. Just imagine how you would feel or how you would function if you didn't have this access. You would be unable to quickly scroll through the latest news, stream a lecture in real time or even listen to a podcast. How would you react? Do you take for granted that you touch a screen and the world is at your fingertips? Thirty-nine percent of rural Americans do not know that luxury. Not only do they not have high-speed internet, many of them still have dial-up connections. Because of this, in the evening, families are forced to load the kids into the van and head into town just to get to a parking lot with a Wi-Fi signal.
You can't have big league economy with little league infrastructure. Repairing and maintaining the nation's roads, bridges, highways and transit systems puts Americans to work, keeps people and goods moving safely and grows the economy.
In February, the Trump administration laid out its proposal for expanding infrastructure investment in America. The plan calls for $200 billion in seed money to support $1.5 trillion in state, local and private infrastructure investment over the next 10 years. The proposal failed to provide further details on how it would be funded, though the president reportedly supports increasing federal gasoline and diesel taxes by 25 cents per gallon. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Trucking Association also support raising fuel taxes.
A few weeks ago, we were honored to host U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao at the National Association of Counties (NACo) Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. She discussed President Donald Trump's infrastructure plan with an audience of nearly 2,000 elected and appointed county officials. The room reflected the nation's diversity — with attendees from Valley County, Idaho (population 10,000) to attendees from Los Angeles County (population 10 million). Across this diverse landscape, counties are eager for a continued conversation about how we build for the future.
A visibly disgusted President Trump announced Wednesday he won't work with Democrats while they're seeking to impeach him, cutting short a meeting with Democratic leaders at the White House and vowing to go it alone until Democrats finish their "phony investigations."