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Does Congress have courage to rebuild national infrastructure?

As published in The Hill by Larry Willis and Ed Mortimer

Seven years after the first American orbited the earth, and thanks in no small part to the brilliant minds and the hard work of 400,000 scientists, engineers, and technicians behind the Apollo space missions, the United States landed the first humans on the moon. It was an unimaginable goal, one this country had the courage to reach, as President Kennedy famously declared, not because it was easy or hard, but because it would “organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one that we are unwilling to postpone.”

When Kennedy spoke to the futuristic aspirations of the American people in the early 1960s, he spoke to an idealism forged in the steel, asphalt, and concrete that paved the Interstate Highway System, built the largest dams the world had ever known, and erected bridges spanning inconceivable distances at dizzying heights. He spoke to a nation crossed like no other by new railroads and canals, so moved by the first flight of two brothers in Kitty Hawk 60 years earlier, that they could not imagine denying their own grandchildren the same legacy. He spoke to citizens who understood that world-class infrastructure drove the growth of American businesses and created good jobs that defined the middle class during the 20th century.

We are now at a crossroads. Federal spending on infrastructure has remained anemic for 40 years and comes nowhere close to what it was during the peak of construction on the National Highway System. It is evident as Congress has not raised the gas tax, the largest contributor of federal dollars for roads, bridges, and public transportation, since 1993. At the same time, many other infrastructure user fees have been stagnated or are robbed by lawmakers to pay for unrelated priorities.

The result of federal inaction and the misuse of funds is a sense that the days of doing big things are behind us. Our roads are crumbling. Our transit systems are struggling to drive strong demand. Our seaports are unequipped to accommodate growth in the movement of freight. Our airports are congested and flights are delayed. We look across the oceans at our greatest competitors and wonder why we cannot find the will to make the same investments they make in 21st century infrastructure.

Read more in The Hill.

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