Experts Say We Need to Treat Infrastructure Funding as ‘Exigent Crisis’
Infrastructure experts say there is ample room for creativity in developing solutions to fix the nation’s transportation infrastructure, but elected officials must overcome their differences and work together if they hope to succeed.
Internationally recognized law firm Arent Fox recently hosted a webinar focused on Responding to America’s Infrastructure Crisis. Contributors included Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), former Congressman Phil English, former Senator Byron Dorgan, as well as experts from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy.
Dan Renberg, co-leader of Arent Fox’s government relations practice, said Congress and the president should respond to national infrastructure needs as a crisis. “We need for Congress and the executive branch to respond to this as if it were the kind of exigent crisis they are known to respond to,” he urged.
English, who now serves as a senior government relations adviser for the law firm, described infrastructure as an area in which bipartisanship can thrive. “This is an issue that tends to unite even a polarized Congress. The needs of communities for the transportation of goods and individuals, as well as clean water, is absolutely critical,” he said.
Rep. Holmes Norton, who serves as Chair of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee in the House of Representatives, said her priority is to craft legislation that is sensitive to the modernization of transportation and takes into account technology, construction materials and modes of travel.
The webinar occurred about a month after President Trump held a meeting with congressional Democrats that resulted in an agreement for a $2 trillion infrastructure deal. Leaders never determined fundraising details and the plan has since stalled.
The nation earned a D+ on the ASCE’s infrastructure report card, issued in 2017. Emily Feenstra, director of infrastructure initiatives for ASCE, said this score reflects the backlog of needs facing the country. She said America faces a $2 trillion funding gap for infrastructure needs. Failing to determine an infrastructure funding solution will result in a $3.9 trillion cost to the economy by 2025, according to ASCE.
Renberg said a gradual fuel tax increase, such as one that proposes hiking the rate by a penny a month, could gain traction with Americans. The federal fuel tax rate has stagnated at 24.4 cents a gallon for diesel and 18.4 cents a gallon for gasoline since 1993.
Judy Feder, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University, shared her perspective from a policy standpoint. She emphasized that solutions to the infrastructure crisis, which should be a bipartisan issue, are obstructed by conflicting viewpoints on how to match funding needs—widespread repairs and even total reconstructions—with funding sources.
She said a successful plan is dependent upon the president and Congress jumping off “the risky bridge together” and forming a solution to raise revenue, such as a fuel tax increase. Noting that such teamwork would bring widespread benefits, she commented, “You’d think it would be simple because there’d be so many winners. Everybody needs a bridge, a school.”
Source: Transport Topics