By Lauren Schapker, vice president of legislative affairs, ARTBA
Bipartisan members of the Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee, and witnesses including ARTBA Chairman Steve McGough, agreed during a June 4 hearing about the critical need to pass a long-term infrastructure investment bill to give the U.S. economy the certainty it needs to recover from the blows of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our committee has repeatedly heard expert testimony that month-to-month extensions make it harder for states and communities to plan,” said EPW Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). “In the past, funding uncertainties from such short-term extensions have led to project delays, cancellations, and higher costs. These delays would hurt our economic recovery.”
EPW Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del) added: “We can provide some of the assistance that’s needed by continuing to invest strategically, and dependably, in the transportation infrastructure of our communities. If we do, I’m confident that we will find America off the ropes and back on the road to an economic recovery and a future that is stronger, more sustainable and more equitable for all of us.”
McGough testified about the power of federal highway programs to spur short-term and long-term economic growth, if a multi-year surface transportation bill is enacted in a timely fashion.
“Short-term planning really leads to short-term decisions,” he said. “The whole key for successful economic growth is a multi-year bill that gives states and contractors the ability to plan and know what to expect.”
In an exchange with Carper, McGough emphasized that both pandemic relief for state transportation departments, and a reauthorization, are needed for a national recovery. Read ARTBA’s story about his testimony.
The EPW Committee last July unanimously approved the America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act (ATIA), a five-year, $287 billion surface transportation bill. If enacted, it would provide a 27 percent increase in investment across federal highway and bridge programs. The Senate Banking, Commerce and Finance committees must still add their sections to the ATIA legislation before the bill reaches the chamber’s floor.
Fewer than 120 days remain until the Sept. 30 expiration of current surface transportation law, the FAST Act. The five-year Senate bill is “clearly better than a failure to reauthorize or a choppy month to month funding approach, which would be a headwind to a recovery that is already going to be difficult enough,” said American Action Forum President Dr. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the other in-person witnesses.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (D) incoming president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, also testified virtually from Kentucky. Holtz-Eakin reinforced the real benefits that investing in infrastructure provides across the economy.
“A well-designed surface transportation infrastructure program can continue to raise the productivity of America’s businesses,” he said. “It can continue to increase efficiencies and allow for cost reductions for those businesses. That shows up as a higher standard of living for America’s workers.”