As the House transportation bill languishes, there's still time to 'fix it first'

Crossposted from the Huffington Post.

Let’s look on the bright side of life.

By all accounts, you would be hard-pressed today to find anyone who views congressional inaction positively. But with the House of Representatives’ transportation package languishing amid opposition from both Democrats and Republicans, members of Congress at least have added time to address the bill’s severe shortcomings.

Our country’s roads and bridges are in desperate need of repair, so crafting economically beneficial legislation with bipartisan support should be lawmakers’ top priority. Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica has already shown us what’s possible when business development and other interests meet, including language in the House bill that would spur development around transit stations and jumpstart real estate investment. With that kind of cooperative leadership as a model, the House would be wise to make the following revisions, showing voters that it’s the congressional branch with the capacity to get things done in an election year:

  1. Restore guaranteed funding for public transportation. Let’s talk economics, not politics; historically, investments in public transportation generate 31 percent more jobs per dollar than construction of roads and bridges. Moreover, millions of Americans rely on transit systems to get them to and from work, shops and schools every day. Retaining a dedicated source of funding for public transportation adds certainty that those economic connections remain in place. Ignoring 30 years of bipartisan policy, destabilizing business growth and stranding seniors and commuters without cars hardly seems like a way to win hearts and minds.
  2. More emphasis on bridge and road repair. Our existing transportation infrastructure is falling apart: One in nine of the bridges and overpasses American drivers cross each day is rated in poor enough condition that they could become dangerous or be closed without near-term repair. The longer we wait to fund these maintenance projects, the more they’ll cost; according to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, every dollar spent to keep a road in good condition avoids 6-14 needed later to rebuild the same road once it has deteriorated significantly.
  3. Reinstate measures that provide funding to pedestrian and bicycling safety programs. The decades-long neglect of pedestrian safety in the design and use of American streets comes at heavy cost: From 2000 to 2009, 47,700 pedestrians were killed in the United States. Considering the unfathomable toll such deaths take on families and on economic development and medical costs, it simply doesn’t make sense to cut safety funding when we really should be adding to it. With an increasing percentage of the American population wanting to live in walkable communities with housing options near jobs, shops and schools, the transportation bill needs to support programs in line with those market trends.
  4. Transportation comes first. Partisan add-ons have marred Congress’ recent debate over the transportation bills. While lawmakers certainly have the power to raise contentious issues in enacting new legislation, those are distractions that will keep the country from achieving its primary goals. Whatever you think of the specific proposals, everyone knows they amount to poison pills that will delay needed funding and reform until next year.

It goes without saying that Americans are ready for an economically sound, people-friendly, and bipartisan transportation bill. It’s a good thing our elected officials have extra time to meet those expectations.