Wright Calls for Election Focus on Project Investments as Key to Economic Strength

AASHTO Journal, 20 May 2016

AASHTO Executive Director Bud Wright issued a call for voters and candidates in this year’s elections to face up to the nation’s transportation needs, with voters demanding how potential office-holders would deal with the investment gap and candidates detailing their action plans.

“We call on the nation to use this major election year to help set the United States on a path to building a truly strong and sustainable transportation system, one that makes visible and steady progress to improving our mobility and quality of life,” Wright said in an opinion piece carried in The Hill newspaper in Washington, D.C.

dollarpump.jpgWright also described the issue as critical to the nation’s commercial future. “There simply is no way to keep our economy healthy and build more economic muscle,” he wrote, “if we continue to let our highways and bridges, transit systems, barge routes, seaports and airports fall further behind population levels and strains on those systems.”

Wright’s message, posted at daybreak May 16, helped kick off “Infrastructure Week,” a set of messaging events by project-focused industry associations and federal officials that put the spotlight on a range of U.S. investment needs.

The week’s official kickoff event came soon after, as business and labor leaders meeting at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce joined that morning to call for more public and private spending on transportation infrastructure, to sharply improve a system whose deterioration now levies steep costs on households and companies trying to move people and goods.

That afternoon, AASHTO and the Eno Center for Transportation sponsored a panel discussion on how disruptive technology, such as self-driving cars, can affect the transportation system. Jim Tymon, AASHTO’s chief operating officer, and Eno President Robert Puentes headed the event, which was held in the hearing room of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

They were joined by a panel comprised of Carlos Braceras, director of the Utah Department of Transportation; Ken Leonard from the USDOT’s intelligent transportation system joint program office; Brian Pickerall, who is working on ITS for Booz Allen Hamilton; and David Strickland, former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and now with the Venable law firm while also heading a self-driving car coalition.

Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., who chairs the T&I Highways and Transit Subcommittee, participated in the event. He told the audience he and ranking member Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., are preparing a “dear colleague” letter to the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee seeking to include a long-term revenue fix for the Highway Trust Fund in any broad tax reform plan. (See report in Top Stories section.)

Among other events to highlight the need for major investments in transportation and other infrastructure, the Bipartisan Policy Center proposed what it called a new “model” of incentives to spur significantly more private funding of publicly needed projects.

And the Eno Center issued a report recommending a number of options to pay for an enhanced program of freight-specific and multimodal freight projects to improve the U.S. supply chain of goods movement.

In it, Eno discussed a number of pay-for measures but settled on a consensus proposal – that Congress approve general fund revenues for a national multimodal freight program, instead of paying for multimodal projects out of the Highway Trust Fund as in the FAST Act.

And for the long term, Eno said, Congress should levy a fee on the cost of freight shipments and dedicate the receipts to a national freight discretionary grant program.

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