Bipartisan Industry Leaders Issue Urgent Call for Overhauling Transportation Policy

Dec 08, 2010, 10:00 ET from Bipartisan Policy Center

Members of the Bipartisan Policy Center's National Transportation Policy Project and the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission say that continuing our existing transportation policies "will further damage our economic health"

WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Members of the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission and the Bipartisan Policy Center's (BPC) National Transportation Policy Project today called on the Administration and Congress to implement an accountable, targeted, fiscally-responsible and performance-driven national transportation policy.  The diverse group, whose membership includes former Republican and Democratic Senate and House members, mayors, business and civic leaders and transportation stakeholders and experts, called for new revenues to provide adequate investment in the nation's transportation infrastructure to advance specific national transportation goals.

"Our recommendations show that stakeholders with widely divergent views can come together to address the challenges facing our transportation system," said Mayor Dennis Archer, co-chair of the BPC's National Transportation Policy Project.  "We hope that our recommendations resonate among both parties in Congress and serve as the starting point for a much needed transformation of the system."

"Our nation has reaped the benefits of a federal transportation program that built a system which has served as the foundation for our economy, global competitive advantage and quality of life," said the members of the BPC's National Transportation Policy Project and the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission in a statement to the Administration and Congress. "It is of particular importance in these times of severe fiscal constraint that we invest scarce public resources more wisely and efficiently, in order to maximize the reach and impact of what we spend," said the statement.  "Otherwise we will continue to get the same results: deteriorating infrastructure marked by unacceptable compromises to safety as well as worsening performance, especially growing congestion."

The National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission was designated by Congress to make recommendations for financing future infrastructure investments in 2009.  The BPC's National Transportation Policy Project is a group dedicated to reforming federal surface transportation policy in a way that ensures federal investments are held accountable for demonstrating results toward the achievement of national goals.

"For too long transportation policy in Washington has been in political and policy gridlock.  The stakes for the nation and for travelers are too high for this to continue," said Rob Atkinson, President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and Chair of the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission.  "As the broad political span of the signatories on this letter demonstrates, it is possible to find common ground, and we urge Congress to do the same.  This means accepting the need for higher user fees while at the same time requiring stricter accountability and real performance standards in how federal money is invested."

Recognizing the nation's current fiscal environment, including increasing federal debt and scarce public resources, these two groups jointly outlined several key principles to push the Administration and Congress to reform and adequately fund the federal surface transportation program to maximize the impact of federal investment.

First, the combined groups called for targeted investments in the transportation system from all levels of government and the private sector in order to adequately serve the nation's growing population and to support the nation's economy and international competitiveness.  "In a time of fiscal crisis, this is where we must make the critical future investments in our economy," said the statement. "Transportation investments should be strategically focused on achieving long-term benefits in terms of economic growth and competitiveness, improved national connectivity, rural and metropolitan accessibility, and the promotion of energy security, environmental sustainability, and personal safety."

Second, users of the transportation system must "bear more of the full costs of infrastructure they demand – including congestion, pollution, and other indirect impacts."  To increase revenues from direct user fees, Congress should "remove certain barriers to tolling and pricing; reauthorize and expand the TIFIA credit assistance program; authorize and fund federal incentive grants to support the development by states of major user-backed projects; [and] re-capitalize State Infrastructure Banks."  The group also called for a needed and critical "national commitment" to a more direct user fee based on vehicle miles traveled (VMT).

Additionally, the group called on Congress to increase federal motor fuel taxes, saying that "these additional revenues are necessary to maintain the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund and to help meet identified system needs. [The nation] cannot afford to wait for longer-term solutions to be fully vetted, designed and implemented. The responsible way to make progress in addressing the investment crisis in the near term is for Congress to increase current transportation funding sources dedicated to the Highway Trust Fund, especially the gasoline fuel tax."

Finally, the group called on Congress to "examine the concept of a national infrastructure financing organization with due caution," and recognize "that it cannot be viewed as a 'silver bullet' solution to the tremendous infrastructure investment challenge facing the nation" and "that alternative financing mechanisms and public-private partnerships, while highly useful, are not substitutes for actual revenues."

"Recognizing the urgency of this issue and scarcity of available public resources, we are calling for federal transportation policy to be tied to goals that advance economic, environment and safety objectives," said Senator Slade Gorton, co-chair of the BPC's National Transportation Policy Project. "Current fiscal constraints further highlight the need for our system to be self-reliant and funded by user-based fees.  We should not and cannot allow the nation's transportation system to continue to be a burden on our national budget."

"The urgency of the need to make significant changes to America's transportation policy cannot be overstated. These combined recommendations should be implemented as soon as possible. America's economic health depends on it," said Martin L. Shultz, Vice Chair of the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission.

"We come together now to urge that federal policy makers address the challenges outlined above and the need for national transportation investment by enacting legislation and taking actions consistent with these principles. Only a national program that meets these principles and offers demonstrable economic, social, and environmental benefits can command public support," said the statement.

The National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission released its recommendations for financing transportation infrastructure in February 2009, and the BPC's NTPP released its blueprint for surface transportation reform, Performance Driven: A New Vision for U.S. Transportation Policy, in June 2009.

To read the full statement and list of signatories, click here.

SOURCE Bipartisan Policy Center