EDITOR’S NOTE: This column appears in the January/February issue of ARTBA’s Transportation Builder magazine. Rep. Peter DeFazio is chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.

By Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.)

We’ve come a long way since 1956, when construction began on the U.S. Interstate Highway System. President Dwight D. Eisenhower championed the project, which linked our nation like never before. Generations of Americans have invested in this vision, knowing our transportation system binds our national economic well-being, security and communities together.

After years of federal neglect, however, our system is in jeopardy.

Years of underinvestment have led to an $836 billion backlog of unmet capital investment needs for aging highways and bridges. A recent Transportation Research Board study found that the United States will need to invest $45 billion to $70 billion annually over the next 20 years to rebuild crumbling roads and bridges and to increase Interstate capacity. This is two to three times more than what is currently spent at the state and federal level combined. And yet, federal gasoline and diesel user fees, the principal means to fund the Highway Trust Fund, haven’t been raised since 1993.

Inaction is not the answer. In fact, the cost of doing nothing is much higher in the long-term than fixing the problem. In 2017, the cost of congestion increased to over $300 billion. According to a 2016 report prepared for the American Society of Civil Engineers, “From 2016 to 2025, each household will lose $3,400 each year in disposable income due to infrastructure deficiencies.”

There is no shortage of work, but I am ready. As the new chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, I plan to work with my colleagues to continue its long history of bipartisanship and reaching across the aisle in order to get things done.

It is imperative we identify and dedicate sustainable revenue that will provide a reliable funding stream for all modes of our transportation network. That is why I plan to reintroduce legislation that will help to rebuild our nation’s airports, ports, roads, bridges, and transit systems, including the:

  • “Investing in America: A Penny for Progress Act,” which indexes gas and diesel user fees and bonds the proceeds to generate more than $500 billion to improve our Nation’s highways, bridges, and public transit systems, and meet future needs through 2030. The increase in user fees is estimated to be 1 cent per year, and is capped at 1.5 cents per year.
  • “Investing in America: Unlocking the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Act,” which provides nearly $20 billion over the next decade for investments in critical harbor and port projects by guaranteeing the money collected from shippers to dredge the nation’s ports is actually used for harbor maintenance—and not to hide the size of the budget deficit.
  • “Investing in America: Rebuilding America’s Airport Infrastructure Act,” which lifts the cap on the passenger facility charge allowing airports to generate billions of dollars locally to rebuild and rehabilitate aging terminals, runways, and taxiways to keep pace with the ever-increasing demands of the 21st century.

With that in mind, we need to ensure the investments made today will meet the needs of tomorrow. It’s not enough to simply maintain what we have. We need to look forward and modernize how we plan and build transportation projects to accommodate changing technology, including electric and autonomous vehicles. Our transportation network needs to be stronger and more resilient with a lifespan that can withstand the changing climate. We must identify ways to ensure our state and local partners can deliver projects quickly and efficiently—without undercutting safety, critical environmental protections, or worker rights.

We also must focus on how to move people and goods more efficiently. Congestion already costs each U.S. driver an average of $1,400 per year and this number will grow exponentially without significant investment in a range of transportation options, including transit. As part of this effort, we must preserve access to affordable transportation options. We can’t toll our way around massive underinvestment.

With this new Democratic Congress, and experienced leadership on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, there is tremendous opportunity to make critical investments in our nation’s infrastructure. But we can’t do it alone. We need a commitment to real revenue from the White House in order to get a robust infrastructure package across the finish line. I stand ready and willing to work with the president to make this happen.