Innovation on infrastructure: A bipartisan effort is underway to finance vital transportation projects

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America's economic strength has always been built on a foundation of innovation and education. These gave us the tools to design and construct transportation networks that were once the marvel of the world. But today, the abysmal state of our nation's antiquated roads, bridges, railways and ports is costing Pennsylvanians and Americans nationwide precious time, money and energy, while putting our citizens at risk.

If we expect to sustain our country's leadership in an increasingly competitive global economy, we cannot afford to ignore the structural deficiencies plaguing our infrastructure.

We must develop a national infrastructure strategy that emphasizes creative, bipartisan solutions based on economics, not political gamesmanship. Whether it's maintaining or rebuilding Pittsburgh's hundreds of bridges or providing the Port Authority of Allegheny County the resources it needs to maintain critical transit service, we need to enact policies that allow communities to develop projects based on their local needs that will be environmentally sustainable and economically productive.

A look at the state of our nation's infrastructure shows why the time has come for immediate action.

The American Society of Civil Engineers' latest report card on Pennsylvania gave the state's roads and transit a "D-." It also found nearly 25 percent of Pennsylvania's bridges "structurally deficient" and 19 percent "functionally obsolete."

Nationally, one in nine of our more than 600,000 bridges are structurally deficient, and our transit systems face a $78 billion maintenance backlog. Forty percent of our major urban highways are congested, costing drivers $101 billion per year in wasted time and fuel.

Closer to home, Pennsylvania's roads are draining money from household budgets and time away from our families and work. Pennsylvania drivers lose $9.4 billion each year driving on roads that are congested, deteriorated and unsafe, according to a report released in May by TRIP, a national transportation group. In Pittsburgh, drivers are losing $1.4 billion per year. The study also found that 37 percent of Pennsylvania's major local- and state-maintained roads and highways are in poor or mediocre condition.

While the current situation is clearly unacceptable, these challenges present an opportunity to create jobs, attract private investment and strengthen long-term economic growth and activity. That's why I've teamed up with a bipartisan group of members from the House and Senate to introduce legislation that offers a new, innovative approach to finance America's infrastructure into the 21st century.

Our bill would create Transportation and Regional Infrastructure Project Bonds that would leverage private investment to provide $50 billion in new transportation infrastructure funding and empower states and local governments to undertake significant projects nationwide. These TRIPs could be used for all modes of transportation, including roads, bridges, rail, transit, ports and inland waterways.

The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that for every $1 billion invested in transportation infrastructure, we can create or sustain 30,000 good-paying jobs in Pennsylvania. Using that benchmark, the $50 billion of tax credit bonds under the TRIPs legislation would create 1.5 million new jobs nationwide to help repave our roads, refurbish our bridges and strengthen our transit networks.

The congressional lawmakers joining me in leading this effort could not be more diverse in terms of backgrounds, political views or geography. In the House I'm working with Rep. Ed Whitfield, a conservative Kentucky Republican. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, and North Dakota Republican John Hoeven are leading the effort in the Senate. Our legislation would enable each state to issue $1 billion in bonds over six years to support projects of their choosing. States would have the flexibility to identify a revenue stream best suited to their needs and also would have the option to pool their funds for larger projects, including those that affect multiple states.

A diverse group of business organizations, labor unions, industry experts and stakeholders have endorsed TRIPs, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the Laborers' International Union of North America.

TRIPs provide an innovative opportunity to bridge the partisan wrangling in Washington and in statehouses over how to finance transportation projects and other critical infrastructure needs. It provides a low-cost financing mechanism that enables states to maintain and improve their infrastructure, which is a primary function of government, and sustain millions of jobs to ensure that America continues to lead in the 21st century.

We cannot neglect our crumbling infrastructure if we want to ensure the prosperity of Pennsylvania and our nation for future generations. America needs a long-term transportation strategy that harnesses the cooperation, creativity and resources of the private sector and all levels of government. TRIPs offer an immediate, bipartisan way to take an important step toward achieving that goal.

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Allyson Y. Schwartz represents parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery counties in Congress and is a Democratic candidate for governor of Pennsylvania (www.schwartz.house.gov).


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