When Vice President Mike Pence toured the damage in America’s heartland caused by historic flooding, he pledged to work with Republicans and Democrats to ensure farmers and ranchers in Iowa and Nebraska receive the federal funding they need to rebuild.
He was right to do so.
Asking rural families to front the full cost of fixing their infrastructure would be appalling – and would hurt more than just those living in the heartland. The roads, bridges, and levies that, for generations, have allowed the Midwest to feed a nation and export food products do not function in a vacuum. Like transit systems in the Northeast or ports on the West Coast, they are all part of a complex, interconnected transportation network that allows this country, its economy, and working families to prosper, and they deserve federal funding.
Somewhere along the way, though, it seems too many elected leaders have lost sight of this. Instead of valuing projects based on their merits, some are now valuing projects based on the political landscape of the states they are in. This dangerous approach to infrastructure jeopardizes the integrity of our national system, undermines America’s position as a global economic leader, and harms working families.
Just look at California High Speed Rail (CAHSR). Despite ongoing criticism, California is still committed to a high-speed rail network that will improve mobility and spur economic activity in an area that desperately needs both. On paper, the project is everything our president said he wanted in infrastructure. California has contributed real dollars—to the tune of $11 billion, has involved the private sector in a significant way, and is trying to consolidate environmental reviews. Yet, the FRA shocked the transportation community — and ushered in a new era of applying politics to transportation projects — when the agency announced the cancelation of a $929 million grant. What’s more, the agency made clear it “continues to consider all options” for the return of another $2.5 billion.
While President Trump may see his opposition to this project as a way to settle scores with elected leaders, it is really working people who pay the price of petty politics. Construction of CAHSR alone is estimated to create 20,000 new jobs annually over the next four years, and increased economic activity associated with the project could generate an additional 400,000 jobs. By 2035, CAHSR will lead to an estimated $7.6 billion in new business sales and $3 billion in new wages. By denying federal grants and possibly forcing the state to repay money on the project that has already been spent, more than 2,400 skilled trades workers currently employed by the project could lose their jobs. Hundreds of small businesses, including those owned by women and veterans, stand to be impacted. And the promise of middle-class economic growth that comes with linking major communities, building out train stations, and creating jobs in operations, maintenance, and transportation manufacturing, will vanish.
The same is true of projects in the Northeast, where the consequences of allowing politics to get in the way of infrastructure could be even more severe. The busiest rail corridor in the country supports 30 percent of the nation’s jobs and 20 percent of our GDP, yet is forced to rely on infrastructure that predates the First World War. Without federal funding for the Gateway project, Amtrak will be forced to take tunnels out of commission one at a time, reducing capacity in the area to 25 percent and costing our national economy $16 billion over four years.
Naysayers may argue California, New York, and New Jersey are wealthy enough to pay for major infrastructure projects on their own. However, this narrow-minded thinking ignores the fact that our nation’s infrastructure is a shared responsibility, and requires a strong, federal role. And by allowing politics to get in the way of doing what is right, our elected leaders aren’t just hurting Americans in blue or red states. They are doing a disservice to working families across the country and stunting middle-class economic growth.
Frankly, it shouldn’t matter where infrastructure needs are located or who those in the immediate surrounding area last voted for. This country requires a safe, efficient transportation network to function and working families at the local level cannot be expected to foot every bill. Coming together to fund our nation’s transportation system and infrastructure is what this country has traditionally done, and it is what we need political leaders to do now more than ever.