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APA Utah News & Events

A bipartisan opportunity to rebuild American infrastructure

November 16, 2020 by admin
Policy/Legislative, Transportation

While the election has passed, the country remains divided. Despite this polarization, the majority of Americans want their government to cooperate to move us forward. Where can the president and Congress find common ground to help the nation recover from the pandemic and recession, and be poised for broad future prosperity? One opportunity is through a bold infrastructure plan to rebuild America.

Infrastructure is one of the few areas with broad and bipartisan support. National and local chambers of commerce agree with labor unions that infrastructure is key to business and job growth. Farmers and ranchers need rural roadways maintained, while environmentalists and urbanists want more public and active transportation to improve air quality and public health.

Transportation infrastructure — roads, rails, and more than ever before, broadband — connects people to jobs, education, health and child care, shopping and nature. It allows businesses to reach workers and customers. It allows freight and deliveries to move. Quality infrastructure means that more people can safely and easily access the opportunities they need to achieve the American Dream.

But much of our nation’s infrastructure is in disrepair. The American Society of Consulting Engineers gives our infrastructure a D+ grade. This interferes with Americans’ mobility and safety, and puts us at a competitive disadvantage with many other countries.

America needs a new commitment to investing in its infrastructure. And in a country that is a diverse mix of urban, suburban and rural communities, that infrastructure needs to be designed to meet all needs: interstate highways in good condition that allow people and goods to travel the nation; local roadways that allow mobility within regions; trains and buses that give more people the option to leave their car at home and provide upward mobility to those who don’t have access to a car; bike paths and sidewalks for people to move easily and safely around their neighborhoods; and broadband in all areas to facilitate telecommuting and distance learning.

Investing in infrastructure is a single effort with myriad benefits.

The state of Utah has been a national leader in collaboratively planning for and investing in infrastructure. Utah’s Unified Transportation Plan identifies priority needs for state and local roads, rail, bus and bike, and outlines how those transportation systems integrate with local housing and economic development. As the nation’s fastest-growing state in the past decade, Utah needs continued investment in our transportation system.

The elephant in the room when it comes to infrastructure is how to pay for it. The federal motor fuel tax, at 18.4 cents per gallon, has not been adjusted since 1993. This has resulted in a significant decrease in buying power. While it is good economic policy to continue to cover the majority of infrastructure costs with user fees like the gas tax or alternatives such as a road usage charge, other tools exist.

At this time of economic instability, many economists recommend that the federal government further utilize its unique fiscal tools to invest in America, such as providing low-interest federal loans and loan guarantees, and expanded federal grant and formula programs. In order to set our nation on the path to recovery and avoid a double-dip recession, significant federal investment in infrastructure should be part of a larger economic recovery strategy.

Coincidentally, the president and Congress are already confronted with the need to address transportation funding and policy, because the current authorizing legislation expires in 2021. Rather than letting partisanship and gridlock delay action, Democrats and Republicans should recognize that they have common ground on infrastructure. They should pass an infrastructure bill in 2021 that provides robust funding over a multi-year period. This will provide an immediate infusion of capital that will stimulate the economy ravaged by the pandemic. It will provide stability and certainty of investment so the public and private sectors can have the confidence needed to leverage their own commitment of capital. And it would signal to the global marketplace that America remains a good place for growth and opportunity.

In short, a plan to rebuild America’s infrastructure would be good for our economic recovery, long-term prosperity and quality of life, in all corners of our country. It is an ideal area for cooperation and common ground.

Andrew Gruber is the executive director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council.

Image provided by Scott G Winterton, Deseret News