GBC summit draws calls for passing strong national transportation funding soon

Calls for stepped-up federal funding for transportation infrastructure voiced by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and other experts drew vigorous applause from more than 200 GBC members and guests who attended the Greater Baltimore Committee’s third annual Transportation Summit on September 22.

But speakers called for strong grass roots advocacy to prevent Congress from deferring passage of a new long-term transportation funding reauthorization bill.

Rendell was joined by CSX Chairman Michael Ward and America Road and Transportation Builders Association President Pete Ruane in calling for Congress to pass transportation legislation that includes major increases in funding for America’s roads, transit, rail, port and airport facilities.

“Do you know any business that’s grown without investing in its own future?” Rendell asked. “Of course not. There isn’t one. That’s how growth occurs.”

Rendell co-founded “Build for America,” an advocacy organization comprised of governors and other elected officials from states. He called for dedicating $3.5 trillion over the next 10 years to maintain existing transportation infrastructure and to build new projects including a high-speed rail system “that really works like it does in Asia and Europe.”

CSX’s Ward said that current funding for transportation infrastructure is not sufficient to accommodate economic growth, “We’re living off what our parents built,” said Ward. “We’re patching outdated systems and deferring these issues to the future. At some point, and I think it’s real soon, that future is now.”

He noted that since 1980 the rail industry itself has spent $460 billion on rail capital and infrastructure maintenance.

Ward said that support for strengthening the nation’s rail freight resources needs to have a prominent place in long-term transportation funding reauthorization now pending before Congress.

Ruane said President Barack Obama’s proposal to immediately spend $50 billion on shovel-ready transportation infrastructure projects “gives us a good chance” to get substantial funding from Congress in the anticipated long-term transportation reauthorization. But the question is when, speakers warned.

Action on a more than $500 billion draft reauthorization bill has been put off by the Obama administration and Congress until after the November election.

Virtually all experts predict that the 2011 Congress will have “the most narrow margins in both Houses in years,” Ruane said. “Getting anything done,” he said “is going to be extremely hard in the coming months.”

Rendell, Ruane and Ward all urged transportation advocates to vigorously voice their support for quick passage of the reauthorization funding.

“We will not get this done without massive grass roots action from the business and transportation community,” Ruane said. If Congress doesn’t act soon to pass a long-term transportation funding bill, they could “let it slide” until after the 2012 election, he warned.

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