Amid all the hopes for this new year, Congress is poised to begin construction of major transportation legislation that holds the promise of new jobs and opportunities for West Virginia and the nation. Coming off a year of stifling partisan gridlock, broad support from the private sector — including, notably, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — serves to buoy hopes for bipartisan action that will result in a solid, long-term highway bill.
I went to Congress believing that transportation builds jobs, and, from Day One, I have served on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Now, as the top Democrat on that committee, I hold a key position to make the case for West Virginia’s fair-sized slice of the federal pie and, this year, I hope the committee can build on the legislative success we achieved in the past year. The overwhelming bipartisan support the Water Resources Development Act received in the House and the fact we are now conferencing with the Senate to iron out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, I truly believe provide a sound road map for legislative progress on the upcoming highway bill.
My bipartisan approach and the long-standing relationships I have built with my Republican counterparts on the Transportation Committee helped to ensure the crafting of a fair and equitable water resources bill, continuing important transportation programs and the necessary funding to implement them. Private-sector businesses and industries and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spoke with one voice expressing the national need for the bill that puts the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to work so that our rivers of commerce can be as efficient and productive as possible.
And, earlier last year, in testimony before the House Budget Committee, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce again expressed its long-standing support for a surface transportation bill. The Chamber’s representative at that hearing made three very important points during her testimony.
First and foremost, jobs and our economy’s strength are reliant on a strong national transportation system. It can’t be said much plainer than the Chamber’s statement, “Without a first rate transportation system, we cannot maintain a first rate economy in the United States.”
And to back up their statement the Chamber has developed a tool to help analyze the effects of investing in our nation’s transportation infrastructure. Using their Transportation Performance Index, the Chamber was able to demonstrate that increased transportation investment does aid in yielding greater economic output.
Significantly, the Chamber’s Index strongly suggested that the economic benefit went beyond the good construction jobs inherit in building a more viable transportation network, and found that increased transportation investment netted our economy long-range sustained economic growth and jobs as well. We in West Virginia appreciate this fact because we’ve seen it repeated time and time again.
These findings were no surprise to members of my Transportation Committee, either. We have been touting this statistic to all who will listen — for every $1 billion in transportation investments we make, our nation sustains or creates nearly 35,000 jobs. And the return to the taxpayer is significant because every dollar spent on road, highway, or bridge improvements returns an average benefit of $5.20 by reducing delays, vehicle maintenance costs, fuel consumption, road and bridge maintenance costs, and emissions, as well as improving safety — all as a result of improved traffic flow.
A second point the Chamber made in testimony was that the federal government has a clear and necessary role as a full partner in America’s transportation system. Simply put, the lion’s share of states could ill afford the burden of a modern transportation network by themselves. Here at home, the American Road and transportation Builders Association has calculated that over the past 10 years, on average, the federal highway program has provided 61 cents of every dollar our West Virginia Department of Transportation has invested in highway and bridge improvements.
The Chamber summed up their point nicely, noting that businesses “do not want to negotiate among 50 different states and myriad communities — the federal role in ensuring the national interest is realized in an interconnected, seamless, and efficient transportation system.”
Finally, the Chamber drove home the point that, for our nation to compete in the global marketplace, an integrated, efficient, and modern highway and transportation system is essential. This point hits home for West Virginians when we consider getting our coal, commodities, products, and even services to market, whether domestic or international.
The case the Chamber has made is clear. We need a bold, long-term bill ready to go when the current law expires on Sept. 30. The days of temporary extensions and shortchanging our road needs had best be behind us. West Virginia, in fact, the whole country, needs a bold initiative in order to give our businesses, our contractors, and the American people the necessary assurances to plan for their businesses, jobs and their careers in the future.
(Rahall represents West Virginia’s Third Congressional District.)