Will the U.S Allow Its Transportation Infrastructure to Deteriorate?

February 24, 2017

Will the U.S Allow Its Transportation Infrastructure to Deteriorate?

By Stephanie Scavelli

Attending public forums organized by elected officials is a great way to get informed on national issues and to hear directly from Congressional leaders without the filter of news media. An important issue of our time is the aging and outdated infrastructure of the nation, including the transportation network.  The East Coast, Northeast and New England in particularly, are more susceptible to deterioration since it has a much older American history than the rest of the country.    

U.S. Congressional Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) is rallying public support for a national transportation stimulus bill.  Senator Murphy is an active member of the Transportation Sub-Committee of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee. On February 24, 2017 at the Town Hall of Greenwich, CT Senator Murphy held a roundtable discussion to glean input from the general public and municipal leaders on a transportation stimulus. 

Senator Murphy is calling for $1 trillion in spending. Even though this figure sounds high, the U.S. needs to rev up its investment in transportation. The U.S. spends 1% of its GDP on transportation, while Europe spends 3% and China spends 12%.

The American Society of Civil Engineers ranked most of the nation’s infrastructure as either in "mediocre" or "poor" condition.

With over one-hundred people in attendance the discussion mostly focused around improving the rail lines; getting trucks off the roads during commuter times; and improving bridges and seaports. There was a call for looking towards new technologies likes Waze, Google and other real-time information to enhance the transportation network.  And even calling into question American norms, like should individuals make their daily commuter in a truck or SUV? As much as Senator Murphy was in support of such forward-thinkingness, he explained we need critical investment to just to get the nation in a state of good repair. 

 Improving commuter rail and bridge infrastructure were the main concerns of City of Stamford and Greenwich. The rail commute to Grand Central Station takes longer today than it did two years ago and for some towns longer than 50 years ago.

Senator Murphy seeks to engage the Trump Administration to create a bi-lateral bill that is supported by both Democrats and Republicans. Trump supported transportation stimulus during his candidacy.  His idea was for 100% private investment.  However, the problem with that, Senator Murphy explained, is that many transportation projects do not offer returns on their investment and private investors expect a return. Roads are a perfect example of an investment that do not produce a return in revenue and commuter rail lines have to be subsidized to operate.

The overarching goal of the spending would be to improve the nation’s transportation infrastructure for economic prosperity.  Mayor David Martin of the City of Stamford commented that for the past 10,000 years the cities and nation-states that have flourished had greatly invested in the infrastructure of transportation networks for the movement and growth of their economies.

A successful bill would fund both shovel-ready and yet-to-be designed projects. This pleased municipal leaders and town staff well-versed in the onerous regulatory processes for accessing federal funds.  Most importantly, funding should be awarded to projects based on merit. Senator Murphy did warn that to win Congressional votes and executive branch support, this sort of forward-thinking bill often gets laced with earmarks labeling specific projects in specific states which would deteriorate the merit-based process and possibly spoil the overarching goal of the bill.

To execute this transportation stimulus would require an additional revenue stream, meaning an additional tax. Senator Murphy is a strong proponent of increasing the federal gas tax.  CT has done very well with the formula process for receiving federal funds. For every dollar CT gives, the federal government gives $1.60 back to CT.  (I wish I had that sort of return on the interest rate in my checking account.)

It will have to be seen if there is the political will and public support to invest in the nation’s future.  Unfortunately, we are in this situation because thus far there has not been.  I believe for near and future prosperity to exist in the United States, we need to invest in the real economy - the infrastructure of transportation, agriculture, energy and waste – and not just a Wall Street stimulus.

 About the Author

Certified Yoga Instructor Stephanie Scavelli practices a plant-based diet and traditional herbal medicine. She laughs endlessly at the adventurous whit of the animation series Rick & Morty. She wears minimalist, barefoot-inspired shoes and her favorite dessert is her sister's Oatmeal Crusted Vegan Pumpkin Pie. Stephanie lives in Westchester County, NY with her daughter Juniper. For yoga classes and workshops near you visit www.yogaforager.com.