[As published Dec. 27 by Edward Wytkind in the Huffington Post]
Ebenezer Scrooge would love America’s approach to funding its transportation needs, but the miserly refusal by too many of our leaders to invest in transportation could haunt us for decades to come. That’s why our nation’s holiday wish list for 2014 must include a comprehensive vision — and adequate resources — for strengthening the country’s transportation systems, which are the lifeblood of a growing 21st century economy.
Several decades of Scrooge-like transportation budgets have left our bridges falling down, our aviation system suffering from outdated technology and inadequate capacity, our rail and transit systems forced to curtail service as demand soars, and our ports and navigation channels unable to compete in a global economy. And amidst an anemic recovery, these policies have left millions of American jobs on the sidelines.
The good news is that we can change course — well, that is if the politicians find the will to do so. They must stop the brinksmanship, reject destructive austerity budgets and start investing in a long-term plan that ends the decades of neglect of our transportation system that have left the entire network in a state of severe disrepair.
This plan must, at its core, focus on job creation. And, if we do it right, we can leverage our investments that we need to make in transportation to rekindle an important aspect of our manufacturing sector. We must get back to building things in America. That’s why we announced our new partnership with the Jobs to Move America coalition that has a plan to direct the billions of taxpayer dollars spent annually on rail car and bus procurement toward companies that maximize job creation and make those jobs available to disadvantaged communities and veterans.
And that’s just the start. When Congress comes back in session, TTD has an agenda to get our economy moving that includes:
Providing long-term funding to ensure a strong national Amtrak rail network. Once a global passenger leader in rail, the United States has fallen far behind much of the developed world, and the reason is simple: we have failed to invest in a modern, integrated rail system. Too often policy makers in Washington have offered Amtrak bankruptcy budgets and advanced an old and tired idea that you can privatize your way to a successful national passenger rail system. Austerity policies and letting foreign private interests cherry-pick those parts of Amtrak that can make them a buck will not deliver better transportation options — these policies will lead to balkanization of the system and abandon much of America. When it comes to our strong freight rail system, we must direct strategic investments to relieve major bottlenecks that harm our economy and we must advance safety reforms that will keep the public and rail employees safe, and this critical commerce thriving.
Keeping our federal transit and highway funds from going insolvent. We need to fix the broken funding mechanism for our nation’s transit systems, highways and bridges. The fact is that the fuel-tax funded mechanism hasn’t seen an increase in 20 years, meaning that we will be running a 2014 surface transportation system on a 1993 budget. Congress and the President must get beyond the speeches and enact a bipartisan plan — yes, a fuel tax hike should be on the table. Other than impacting our economic future and threatening thousands of jobs, not much else is at stake in the outcome of this debate.
Funding and modernizing our air traffic control system. If we are to maintain the safest aviation system in the world, and continue to compete internationally, we need to make sure the FAA has the funding it needs to deal with a severe staffing crisis, know that projects won’t be delayed or shelved due to more fits and starts, and will have a research and development budget that produces systems on the cutting edge. We cannot have the same crippling stalemates on Capitol Hill over FAA reauthorization like the ones we have seen in recent years, or the government shutdowns that severely impacted the agency and scapegoated its employees.
Reforming harbor maintenance spending and passing the Water Resources Development Act. This legislation, pending in a House-Senate conference committee, will make America more competitive and create thousands of jobs by improving our ports, harbors and waterways. More than 50 years have passed since we opened the world’s first container terminal at the Port of New York and New Jersey. Today, rather than being on the forefront of maritime transportation innovation, we find ourselves staggering to keep up. Many of our ports can’t even receive the new generation of mega-vessels because we’ve slowed channel dredging to a crawl. It is time to get this legislation to the President so that our nation’s ports and waterways can be modernized and catch up with the rest of the world.
Let’s hope 2014 can be known as the Year of Transportation, or at the very least, the year we busted the Washington logjam on providing the essential transportation and job needs of our country. Scrooge would cringe, but for the rest of us that’s a resolution we can get behind.
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