A Transportation Infrastructure Plan for the 21st Century

For generations, this country's transportation infrastructure served as the backbone of our economic success. We dreamed big, we built bigger, and our economy flourished. But today, our crumbling infrastructure is slowing economic growth, and without serious long-term investments, we simply will not be able to compete in today's global economy.

Over the past 50 years, as a share of our economy, our investment in transportation has shrunk by half. China is outspending us four to one and Europe two to one on transportation infrastructure. We have over 100,000 bridges in this country old enough to qualify for Medicare. According to the latest USDOT rankings, 73 percent of Illinois' roads are in poor or mediocre condition. In Chicago, we have a century-old transit system that desperately needs updates to keep up with increased capacity. A recent report found that the current backlog in needed road, highway and bridge improvements nationwide is $740 billion. The need for investment could not be more obvious.

For too long, Congress funded transportation infrastructure through stop-gap funding measures that prevented states and localities from being able to plan for the future. Over the last six years, Congress passed 35 stop-gap funding bills to extend transportation funding. However, most transportation projects are not built in just one year. These are complex, multi-year projects. When states are working to plan and build these projects, they need the certainty of knowing that they have multi-year funding in place to do multi-year projects.

Thankfully in December of last year, Congress passed the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act, or the FAST Act - the first federal law in over a decade to provide long-term funding certainty for transportation infrastructure planning and investment. The FAST Act authorized $305 billion over fiscal years 2016 through 2020 for roads, bridges, public transit, rail and much more. For Illinois, this means $7.5 billion in guaranteed funding for roads and $2.9 billion in guaranteed funding for public transit over the next five years; $199 million in support for commuter rail agencies, such as Metra, to install and test Positive Train Control safety technology; and possibly $750 million to $1 billion in work in and around Union Station through the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program. In short, this bill provides states, localities, and businesses with the funding certainty they need to plan ahead and make long-term transportation investments.

While the FAST Act is a significant bipartisan accomplishment that provides much-needed funding certainty, this modest increase in funding is hardly the bold, forward-thinking plan our country needs to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and create a 21st-century transportation system. What America really needs is a long-term bill that makes significant investments in our transportation infrastructure and reforms the highway trust fund to ensure it remains solvent for years to come. This will require bold ideas and a bipartisan effort.

As President Reagan said, rebuilding our infrastructure is "an investment in tomorrow we must make today." I became an appropriator to help bring much-needed funding back to my city and my state, set our country's funding priorities and help plan for the future. This Infrastructure Week, it's time for Congress to go big and plan for the long-term projects that will modernize our infrastructure, spur economic growth and create jobs.