TTD was proud to stand with President Obama yesterday at the foot of Key Bridge – a major artery of commercial and commuter traffic connecting Virginia to Washington D.C. But this bridge is “structurally deficient,” and like so much of our vast transportation system, is in need of significant investment and repair. With workers and equipment standing by, the President used this bridge to highlight the need to avoid a summer collapse of the Highway Trust Fund and to find a longer-term plan to put Americans back to work fixing and operating our deteriorating surface transportation system.
Here are the facts. Without action by Congress, the Highway Trust Fund will become insolvent and thus unable to finance investments in transit systems, roads, bridges and highway safety. Why? Policy makers have for years failed to fix a financing system that is simply broken and now the Trust Fund will run out of money in a few short weeks. If we let this happen, transportation construction projects that support thousands of good jobs will be put on hold, local transit services could be cut and long overdue upgrades in commuter rail will be further delayed. In this still fragile economy, self-inflicted wounds are the last thing we need. Yet this seems to be the path some Tea Party stalwarts want to pursue.
Yesterday, Department of Transportation Secretary Foxx told state and local transportation agencies that checks from the federal government that support construction and run buses and trains will be reduced to a bi-monthly basis and paid only as gas tax money comes in. This is not the way a modern economy goes about the serious business of meeting its transportation needs and restoring economic growth.
There is some good news. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has announced his panel will consider a short-term fix to the Trust Fund next week. To his credit, Chairman Wyden has been more than willing to work with his Republican colleagues to find a solution to this avoidable crisis. But to no one’s surprise, cooperation from key Republican leaders has been a little hard – ok, very hard – to find. That needs to change soon. If not, Members of Congress are going to have to tell thousands of unemployed transportation and construction workers why their political agenda is more important than good, middle-class jobs and a functioning transportation system.
For our part, we have endorsed several different funding proposals to pay for both our immediate and long-term transportation needs, including an increase in the federal fuels tax, which has been stagnant for over 20 years. At the same time, we will continue to oppose any politically and ideologically driven gimmick that is used to fund transportation. Cutting the pay or benefits of federal workers, eliminating six-day mail delivery, attacking labor standards and cutting domestic programs that working families depend on have all been proposed and all must be rejected.
It is time to focus on serious policy proposals – playing chicken with the Highway Trust Fund and the hundreds of thousands of jobs its supports makes no sense.