Happening Now

Leaders Agree: Infrastructure is Critical and Congress Must Pay for It

February 14, 2013

Written By Malcolm Kenton

New Jersey's decrepit 103-year-old Portal Bridge. Photo by Andrew Bossi on Flickr.com
New Jersey's decrepit 103-year-old Portal Bridge. Photo by Andrew Bossi on Flickr.com

Yesterday, the US House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee heard testimony from a former Governor of Pennsylvania who leads an infrastructure investment advocacy group, the head of the nation’s largest business lobby, and the chief of a major labor union. All three agreed that the federal government must continue to play the leading role in maintaining and developing the nation’s infrastructure, rather than having these responsibilities “devolve” to the states as some conservatives have advocated. US Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue also reiterated a call to increase the gasoline tax to pay for these investments, which all agreed are key to the smooth functioning of the US economy and our international competitiveness.

Passenger trains were almost absent from the discussion. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell touted major freight rail projects that have received federal investment through the Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, and called for the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank to continue to fund such projects across modes. The committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, mentioned passenger trains among transportation assets that would be hurt by the automatic budget cuts that will take effect March 1 unless Congress reverses course. But the discussion largely focused on highways, bridges and aviation.

That the cost of inaction on fixing our infrastructure continues to grow should be clear to everyone. It should now also be clear that the idea of ramping up public investment to address it enjoys broad, mainstream support. Our challenge then is to make sure passenger trains take their rightful place at the center of this undertaking, especially given how undercapitalized rail has been compared to the other travel modes, and to make clear that this is something the people overwhelmingly want.

It’s not as if passenger trains have been absent from the minds of our nation’s leaders. President Obama included high-speed rail as an area in which other countries have an edge on the US in attracting cutting-edge businesses, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood continued his full-throated defense of passenger train modernization before the US High-Speed Rail Conference as he prepares to step down. All of these figures – even some Members of Congress themselves – decried Congress’s failure to lead on making the investment necessary to keep America thriving.

If Congress isn’t taking action, it’s partly because they aren’t hearing a loud enough outcry from the citizens who elect them. And that’s where NARP and other organizations that support modern transportation solutions come in. We’re gearing up for our Day on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, April 23 – and if you’re up for making a trip to Washington, we’d love for you to join us. Just click here to sign up. But you don’t have to travel to DC to make your voice heard in the halls of Congress. You can email your Representative or Senator, call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121, or make an appointment to visit your Representative or Senator’s district office – check his or her Website using the links above or the Blue Pages of your phone book for the location.

As you continue to press the case for trains as an integral part of a program to fix our gridlocked transportation system and ready it for the demands of a growing and increasingly mobile population, know that you are in good company. Vast majorities of Americans understand that we can’t afford to keep propping up an unsustainable system where driving and flying are most people’s only viable choices. As Secretary LaHood has often reiterated, “The people are way ahead of the politicians” and “Passenger rail is the next generation of transportation.”

Thanks for all you do.