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Labor, Business Call for Action on Transport Bill
Thursday, 23 July 2009 00:00

U.S. 'can't wait' 18 months to address infrastructure challenges, groups tell Congress

Labor and business interests converged on Capitol Hill June 23 to urge Congress to pass a multi-year transportation bill despite opposition from the White House and Senate.

Representatives from the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce urging action on a major surface transportation spending bill before the current law expires Sept. 30.

“We can’t wait another 18 months for a surface transportation authorization bill,” Ed Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, told the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures. “Our transportation system and infrastructure are plunging into a state of severe disrepair and can’t wait a year and a half for new investments.”

“Infrastructure is unlike other problems or programs where you can wait until the very last minute and then write a big check,” said Janet Kavinoky, Director of Transportation Infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

She also argued against an 18-month extension of the current surface transportation law already approved by two committees in the Senate in favor of more comprehensive transportation reform.

The subcommittee hearing could be a critical point in the debate over the direction transportation funding will take this year and beyond. Under the leadership of Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is developing a $500 billion six-year transportation bill that would reshape the Department of Transportation and set new multimodal spending priorities for Congress and the states.

The White House and its allies in the Senate want to postpone debate over a major overhaul of transportation funding programs and the DOT. They claim such a bill stands little or no chance of passing by the Sept. 30 deadline while Congress is focused on health care reform and energy legislation.

Both the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO, however, argue infrastructure investment is critical to economic recovery and U.S. competitiveness in global markets.

“America’s transportation infrastructure cannot fall victim to the practice of doing what is easy over doing what is right,” said Kavinoky.

“The nation’s infrastructure has allowed U.S. industries to take a leading role in the global economy, providing products and services worldwide,” said Kavinoky. “Transportation has been the foundation of this success, but it is now becoming our Achilles heel.”

Wytkind stressed the number of jobs a multiyear highway bill could create. “History shows that transportation bills are engines of job creation,” he told the subcommittee. “The economic recovery bill, which dedicated $48 billion dollars to transportation infrastructure, was a great first step,” he said, but “only a down payment” on future transportation needs.

“The costs of delaying a robust surface transportation bill are higher than the costs of passing it,” he said. “If we kick this can down the road any more it’s going to land in a pothole.”

Journal of Commerce, 7/23/2009