EDITOR’S NOTE: This column appears in the January/February issue of ARTBA’s Transportation Builder magazine. U.S. Rep. Sam Graves is ranking member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.
By Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.)
Republicans and Democrats are eager to get something done for our infrastructure: an issue that impacts every person and business in America.
Growing up as a farmer, I understood the importance of infrastructure to our way of life in rural North Missouri. Roads and bridges, rail routes, inland waterways, and distant seaports formed a strong infrastructure network that allowed us to send our products to markets across the country and around the world. So, when I first came to Congress, infrastructure was an issue I wanted to focus on. Everything in America moves, and infrastructure moves our entire economy.
In Congress, infrastructure can frequently bring political parties together, and we have worked in a bipartisan manner, along with stakeholders like ARTBA, to get results. For example, as Highways and Transit Subcommittee chairman, I helped lead the effort to enact the bipartisan Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. In recent years, we also passed multiple Water Resources Development Acts and an FAA reauthorization. These few bills provided over $380 billion in infrastructure investment.
Through such legislation, we have made progress in addressing our infrastructure needs. But the work is not done. And with infrastructure remaining at the top of the agenda in Washington, we have an opportunity to do more.
I believe there are several key issues for the future of America’s infrastructure.
An obvious challenge is how we will pay for it. A large part of that solution will be finally fixing the Highway Trust Fund, the source of federal funding for the surface transportation system.
Since the 1950s, the federal fuel taxes – the main sources of revenue for the Trust Fund – have mostly provided an efficient, straight-forward way to collect fees from system users and make necessary transportation improvements. The user fee concept is sound, but the current fuel taxes no longer work.
As Congress works to address infrastructure, we will look at all options for fixing the Trust Fund. I believe the most sustainable, long-term solution – one that doesn’t rely on regular General Fund transfers – is to transition from the fuel taxes to a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) program.
VMT is being pioneered at the state level, and it’s time to pursue it at the national level. There are challenges with any new approach, but I am confident we can address them. We can’t put off the future any longer. We need a sustainable solution that ensures all users are paying into the system.
Once we fix the Trust Fund, we will be able to address our near-term needs and build the modern transportation network America needs to compete in the always-evolving global economy. Just as the fuel taxes of the 1950s no longer work today, we cannot rely on 20th century infrastructure in our 21st century economy.
Shoring up our finances will allow us to begin unlocking the potential for technology to help improve infrastructure, efficiency, and transportation safety. The federal government has taken some steps towards this goal, but government frequently lags far behind innovation.
We must encourage the use of technology where it makes sense and strike the right balance between private sector ingenuity and federal regulation that won’t stifle innovation: an approach that could slingshot our infrastructure into the future.
Technology will also help stretch our limited resources along with cutting red tape in the project delivery process.
Streamlining this process is a priority of the administration and will continue to be a priority in our work on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee under my leadership. We can always look for ways to build infrastructure more efficiently, because there will always be fat to trim in federal processes. Nobody knows this better than President Donald Trump, who cut his teeth as a successful builder in the private sector.
As a farmer, I know that the rest of the world doesn’t wait on you to bring in the crops. There’s no other option than to get to work and get the job done. If you don’t, you don’t survive. Simple as that. The same is true for the future of our infrastructure and the economy. I am confident that we can work together – Republicans, Democrats, the administration, and Congress – to get the job done for the American people.