Last week’s meeting between President Trump, Speaker Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Schumer, and Democratic leaders that was supposed to turn the $2 trillion infrastructure bill discussions into policy and funding proposals was interfered by politics once again. Regardless of political drama in DC, the House and Senate are going full steam ahead in introducing infrastructure proposals, and bipartisan policy groups are coming out of the woodwork to demonstrate to the American people that infrastructure is not a one-party issue.
There are no Republican roads or Democrat bridges. Modernizing our infrastructure is one of the only areas today where there is bipartisan agreement with 79% of Americans polled recently saying it is “extremely important.” That’s Democrats and Republicans. Echoing this language, the Problem Solvers Caucus Infrastructure Working Group in the House of Representatives released a report with bipartisan policy recommendations to rebuild America’s crumbling roads, bridges, power grid, ports, water and sewer systems, etc.
The report recommends modernizing existing user fees, incentivizing private innovation and investment through public private partnerships, making smarter investments with limited federal dollars, and increasing accountability to taxpayers. By implementing these solutions, the taskforce argues that we can build a 21st Century infrastructure network that will foster a 21st Century economy that works for every American. Structured to provide Congressional Leadership and the Trump Administration with the building blocks to craft a robust infrastructure bill that invests in and modernizes our nation’s infrastructure, the report lays out concrete plans on how to fund and finance infrastructure investments. One of the recommended reforms stresses life-cycle assessments to assess all future costs associated with operation and maintenance of facilities where projects are over $20 million.
Our nation’s surface transportation feeds into our economy, giving us an advantage in a global economy, but unfortunately, Congress has allowed a backlog of deferred maintenance to grow in our infrastructure while feeling to keep up with growing demand. We essentially have to play catch-up, which has made it harder for businesses to compete and easier to miss meetings, our kid’s soccer game, or be late to work because we’re spending so much time stuck in traffic each day while our infrastructure continues to crumble and become unsafe. The report recommends providing sustainable, long-term funding for the Highway Trust Fund by increasing the federal gas tax to inflation, so Americans do not face the same funding shortfalls over the next 25 years.
Inland waterways and ports are also facing issues in terms of failing to properly fund dredging. The report recommends dedicating 100% of the revenue raised for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to its intended purpose, which is to support port and harbor dredging activities. Our water and wastewater infrastructure have seen years of underfunding, with underpricing of water and sanitary services and increased federal regulatory mandates – all with declining financial support, thus aging and overburdening our water and wastewater systems across the country. Stressing the necessity of sustainable water and wastewater infrastructure, which ensures safe drinking water and a clean environment while also strengthening local and regional economies, the Caucus recommends strengthening and increasing access to the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds as one of the solutions.
Our energy resources have changed drastically in the past decade, but federal policies are failing to keep up with the innovation and growth the sector has seen. Recommendations to modernize our energy systems include pushing Congress to continue to fund critical energy research which strengthens our economy and national security, support Rural Utility Service loans programs that provide much-needed infrastructure to rural communities, and more. Our airports, which carry more than 932 million passengers annually and move about a quarter of our exports and imports by value, yet Congress has failed to empower our airports and air traffic control systems to keep up with the growing demand. The U.S. Travel Association states that 24 of the top 30 airports in the U.S. will soon experience “Thanksgiving-like congestion and traffic volume” at least once a week. The Caucus recommends that Congress proceed to debate a bipartisan, long-term reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Our nation’s infrastructure bill is long overdue. We built out our system decades ago and haven’t kept up with the necessary maintenance and upgrades. ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card rated the overall condition of the nation’s infrastructure a cumulative grade of “D+,” with an investment gap of $2 trillion. In addition, American families are paying a hidden tax of $3,400/year in personal disposable income due to our outdated infrastructure systems. Thanks to the Problem Solvers Caucus for exploring these issues, analyzing policies to find points of bipartisan consensus to address the current backlog of deferred maintenance and need for infrastructure investment now.