It’s crunch time.
This summer the nation must once again navigate a federal surface transportation authorization process in a deeply divided Congress, while we in the New York City region hold our collective breath. Without a long-term, well-funded, sustainable funding source that historically has been supplied by federal reauthorization, we are weakening the transportation building blocks that support our region’s jobs, economy and quality of life.
A recent analysis of the 2013 National Bridge Inventory database from the U.S. Department of Transportation showed that nearly a quarter of a billion times a day our cars, trucks and school buses cross America’s more than 63,000 structurally compromised bridges.
In New York, more than 6,400 bridges statewide are rated deficient or obsolete, and over 2,200 of those in New Jersey are in a similar state of disrepair. In Connecticut, that number exceeds 1,400 bridges.
And our roads are also in dire need with almost 26 percent of New York’s highways and major roads in need of significant repair, along with more than 43 percent of similar roads in New Jersey and over 48 percent of Connecticut’s.
People in the New York City metropolitan region have noticed the continuing deterioration of our transportation infrastructure.
When asked for an assessment of the state of our region’s transportation system, 57 percent of respondents rated the system as only adequate — at best, according a survey conducted in April of this year by HNTB Corporation.
We must address our aging roads, bridges and rails, and become resilient against natural and manmade disasters. Yet the last time Congress voted to increase the gas tax, and therefore the user-generated revenue supporting the Highway Trust Fund, was 1993. Since then, inflation has seriously eroded the fund’s purchasing power. Reliance on a federal program that continues at current – or lower – levels will extend a quarter-century underinvestment in our transportation system.
People are willing to pay when they can trust what they will get. HNTB’s survey found people believe the best way to fund repairs are through tolls or user fees or public transportation fares.
Now is the time to innovate, to bring all forms of funding, financing and technology-based tools to the table. And while we cannot rely solely on the gas tax, we do need to increase it in the short-term. It’s time to change the process of how we plan and deliver infrastructure projects.
In fact, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster and Ranking Member Nick Rahall recently announced the creation of a special panel to advise the committee on public-private partnerships. And a proposed national infrastructure bank would leverage $50 billion to provide low-cost loans and loan guarantees totaling $750 billion to state and local infrastructure projects and public-private partnerships.
The mandate is clear — meeting our region’s infrastructure needs is foremost to our economy, safety and security. Our best-regarded elected leaders have supported infrastructure and fully understood what we get in return for our investments: job creation, economic development, improved quality of life, and increased competitiveness in the international marketplace.
It’s past time we work together to make the proper investments. Our transportation network is our economic backbone, and it must be strong, now and in the future.