The message coming from U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx was simple: America’s infrastructure is in the midst of a funding crisis, and it’s up to voters to convince Congress to do something about it ASAP.
For an hour, Foxx conducted a virtual “town hall” meeting on Wednesday, discussing key challenges facing the nation’s roads, bridges, and intermodal transportation system, as well as some potential solutions outlined in the DOT’s proposed legislative fix, the Grow America Act.
“Our country can’t afford to wait 10 months to get another stopgap measure,” Foxx said, referring to the May 2015 expiration date for the latest temporary appropriation passed by Congress to keep the Federal Highway Trust Fund solvent.
The Secretary encouraged voters to lobby their elected representatives about the importance of infrastructure improvements “in your backyard” and said the DOT has created a social media campaign, #InvestNow, for citizens to share their photos and stories of crumbling roads and bridges.
Foxx held court with an estimated 3,400-plus individuals who had logged into the DOT’s website to watch the live stream of the event. The secretary took questions that had been submitted in advance, as well as some in real time from the website and via Twitter. The meeting also included video presentations by David Friedman, acting head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
Streamlining the permitting process is one of Foxx’s goals, saying the ability for governmental agencies to conduct reviews of proposals in a concurrent rather than a sequential fashion could reduce the amount of time it takes for projects to be completed.
Among the components in the Grow America Act is a $199 billion investment in the nation’s highway system, raising the amount of highway funds by an average of 22 percent above fiscal year 2014 levels; $72 billion for transit investment; and $19 billion in dedicated funding for rail programs. The Obama administration has proposed paying for the plan through business tax reform.
The plan also calls for the inclusion of a dedicated source of funding for rail projects, something the current highway trust fund does not do.
OOIDA Government Affairs Director Ryan Bowley was one of several thousand to participate in the virtual town hall meeting. He said many of the points hit upon during the presentation about the country’s infrastructure problems “aren’t new to truckers.”
“Mobility is clearly tied to economic growth,” Bowley said. “It’s the key story of our nation for 50-plus years and it needs to be recognized going forward, and it’s certainly something truckers recognize.”
When asked about the inclusion of rail projects in the highway trust fund, Bowley said the priority for any highway funding should be on highways.
“When truckers hear that, it raises some huge red flags, especially when you look at some of the other critical points the secretary raised,” he said. “Those shrinking dollars are being spread over a wider area, with more projects being eligible (due to the inclusion of rail). We really feel highway dollars are paid in by truckers and highway users; they need to go to highways nationally.”
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