Young: Nation's roads and bridges in a heap of trouble

| 6/17/2003

House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young, R-AK, is arguing for more transportation dollars in view of DOT estimates that say 32 percent of the nation’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition.

DOT also said 28 percent of bridges were either structurally deficient or obsolete.

“You probably remember what happened when the bridge on Interstate 40 in Oklahoma went down,” Young said, while speaking at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce conference in Washington, DC, last week. “ Look at the Wilson Bridge over the Potomac – it was never designed to handle the truck capacity it now carries.”

In May 2002, 14 people were killed when barges pushed by a towboat crashed into the I-40 bridge in Oklahoma, causing part of it to fall into the Arkansas River. The Woodrow Wilson Bridge is a six-lane drawbridge opened to traffic in 1961 that links interstates I-495 and I-95.

Young and others want between $270 billion and $375 billion in highway spending over six years beginning next fiscal year. The money would come in part from an increase in the federal fuel tax, which Young calls a “user fee.”

However, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta says the administration’s $247 billion, six-year highway proposal is sufficient to maintain the nation's roads, bridges and tunnels, and meet mass transit needs. He says the Bush administration is opposed to higher gasoline taxes to pay for highway programs and said the White House might veto legislation to enforce its position.

“Unfortunately, some recent discussions on Capitol Hill have focused on the user fee increase and not on what is needed to make our roads safer and reduce congestion,” Young said. “I would argue that the people who drive on our nation’s highways and ride transit would rather pay a little more at the pump for safer roads and less congestion.”

Congestion a key factor

Young said road capacity had not kept pace with road use. Since 1970: The U.S. population has increased by 38 percent; licensed drivers have increased by 71 percent; registered vehicles have increased by 99 percent; and the number of miles Americans drive each year has increased by 148 percent, he said.

“However, during this time period, new road miles have increased by only 6 percent,” Young said. “A just-in-time economy depends on the efficiency of the entire transportation network – roads, rail, aviation and maritime.”

Young said more than one-third of the yearly average of 42,000 motorist deaths – about 15,000 per year – were caused by substandard road conditions and outmoded safety designs. 

“It’s vital that we immediately address this national safety crisis, and that’s what I am committed to doing,” Young said.

Transportation dollars equal jobs

In arguing for his $375 billion proposal, Young noted that for every $1 billion invested in federal highway and transit spending that is matched by the state, 47,500 jobs are created or sustained. 

“Nationally, our proposal will create more than 1.3 million new jobs over the next six years,” Young said. “The U.S. Department of Transportation has indicated that an investment of $375 is needed for highways and transit over the next six years. This is exactly what we intend to do.”