Friday, November 06, 2015
Billy Long: Transportation bill improves America's infrastructure
When a politician starts talking about infrastructure needs, you can usually anticipate all the old adages about crumbling roads and bridges before the words are even out. Though those parts of a speech aren’t always the most riveting, they’re right. We do need to take care of our nation’s highways and public transportation systems. What’s not always understood, however, is that these issues aren’t just about fixing up old roads to make them look nicer. What’s really being talked about is economic well-being, global competitiveness, transit safety, and overall quality of life.
America has over 4 million miles of public roads, over 600,000 bridges, and nearly 300,000 public transit route miles. Across the country, stewardship of this vast and integral network has fallen by the wayside. Here in Missouri, we are at the heart of that network. Our state has nearly 300,000 of these road miles, which means we have the 6th most of any state in the union.
Responsibility for taking care our state’s roadways falls to the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) and, like all states, they receive funding from federal and state sources. In recent years, MoDOT has made strides in cutting costs and making improvements. But despite their efforts, our state’s infrastructure needs remained high. In fact, a recent study by the American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE) rated the quality of our bridges at a “C-,“ and the quality of our roads and highways at a “C.”
Recently, I supported the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act, a plan to turn things around. This is a fiscally-responsible 6-year agreement that provides the certainty local and state governments desperately need to accomplish larger projects. Finally, Congress has done the responsible thing for states like ours – that have some of the most critical transportation networks in the country.
Before, state and local transportation leaders in Missouri - and every other state - couldn’t properly plan long-term improvements because they didn’t have the peace of mind that funding for these initiatives wouldn’t be cut. The last time Congress passed a long-term highway bill was 2005. Ever since it expired in 2009, there have been more than 30 short-term funding extensions. From local to national transportation concerns, this uncertainty was the heart of the problem.
The bill also improves our infrastructure by eliminating red tape that slows down projects, streamlines the environmental review and permitting processes, and establishes the National Surface Transportation and Innovative Finance Bureau to assist groups at all levels to properly finance for their projects. Additionally, it incentivizes private-sector innovation investments that will improve traffic jam wait times and improve bus and truck safety programs.
Surface transportation enables us to travel to and from work, purchase food, clothing, and the other items we need. It also enables those goods to get from production to marketplace for our consumption. I am proud that this Congress finally came together and prioritized our overall quality of life for the people of Missouri, and across America.