GBC Transportation Summit speakers weigh in on nation’s infrastructure needs

A U.S. congressman, former U.S. secretary of transportation and transportation experts agree that fixing the country’s crumbling infrastructure is about more than roads and bolstering mass transit.

Congressman John Delaney, who serves Maryland’s 6th District, said investing in infrastructure creates jobs and makes the U.S. competitive.

“This is an important part of the infrastructure discussion,” Delaney said. “I happen to be of the humble opinion that we have a jobs crisis in this country.”

Delaney spoke at the Greater Baltimore Committee’s 7th annual Transportation Summit Sept. 25. The event focused on the U.S. Infrastructure Crisis: The Problem and Potential Solutions.

“With middle skill, middle class jobs, which is what infrastructure investment produces, that’s not only a good long-term investment in terms of making us more competitive, but it’s a really smart jobs program,” he said.

Delaney is sponsoring The Partnership to Build America Act, a bi-partisan bill to create a privately funded infrastructure bank by incentivizing repatriation of overseas corporate investments.

“U.S. corporations have $5 trillion in cash, which is the most they’ve ever had, even if you adjust for inflation,” Delaney said. “It seems to me good public policy would be get some of that corporate cash going against this infrastructure challenge.”

The $750 billion bill proposes the creation of a privately-funded infrastructure bank financed by corporations buying government bonds in exchange for tax-free repatriated funds.

“It’s clear to me what we need in the Congress is to think differently about our problems and to behave differently about how to solve them,” he said. “This bill that we’ve put together is an example of that.”

Raymond H. LaHood, senior policy adviser for the Baltimore-based DLA Piper, former U.S. secretary of transportation and co-chairman of Building America’s Future Educational Fund, said members of Congress must work together to fix America’s “broken” transportation system.

LaHood said Congress needs to pass a transportation and infrastructure bill with bi-partisan support. He suggested increasing the federal gas tax to fund transit programs, noting the gas tax hasn’t increased since 1993.

“It will be up to the American people to say enough is enough, we need to fix up our roads, we need to build new bridges and replace bridges, we need to take care of 100-year-old transit systems,” he said. “This is the only way that America and cities in America will make progress and create jobs and put friends and neighbors to work. I know this works.”

LaHood said when he served as U.S. Secretary of Transportation his department spent its $48 billion economic stimulus to create projects across the country and employ Americans.

“When we invest in America we invest in the American people – we create jobs,” LaHood said.

The Transportation Summit also featured panelists Emily Goff, policy analyst, transportation and infrastructure for The Heritage Foundation; Beth Osborne, vice president of transportation and development for Transportation for America; Alan E. Pisarski, transportation consultant for Alan Pisarski Consulting; and Stephen Sigmund, executive director of Global Gateway Alliance.

Goff said a safe, reliable transportation system is “part of the economy’s backbone. Family and businesses depend on it whether they realize it every day or not.”

A broken system, Goff said, prevents people from being with their families and business from making deliveries on time.

“The federal government’s role, so long as it is involved in transportation policy, should be to facilitate that efficient system,” she said, “one that is oriented around adding capacity where demand exists, reducing traffic congestion, improving existing infrastructure and providing mobility and safety for people using it.”

Pisarski said while states are making smart decisions now and putting their funds where the problems are, he is concerned about the future.

“For the long term we’re looking at massive needs,” he said. “If we look at the interstate system and its reconstruction requirements, a number like a trillion dollars is not an unreasonable number.”

Sigmund said what needs to happen to improve the nation’s infrastructure is a combination of things, including “a real transportation bill in Congress and there does need to be real federal funding,” in addition to new funding sources and a more localized approach.

Like LaHood, Osborne said her organization champions a gas tax increase.

“Eighteen point four cents per gallon, which is what you pay to the federal government in gas taxes, just does not buy in 2014 what it did in 1993. The gas tax will have some power for several decades further.”

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