Transportation and Infrastructure
Our transportation infrastructure is in dire need of improvement. Airport delays grow longer every year due to a lack of runways and gates, congestion on the highways costs the country 4.2 billion hours in wasted time and the locks on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers were designed for Mark Twain’s steamboat not modern barges. These deficiencies increase transportation costs, which in turn drive up the cost of every product we buy and make American products less attractive on the world market.
To correct these problems I am fully committed to increasing the capacity of our roads, rails, runways, and rivers. I have been a fierce advocate in fighting to ensure the needed upgrades to our transportation system actually happen.
In the 111th Congress, I introduced a bill that would require any unspent money from the so-called “Stimulus bill” to be used for transportation purposes.
One of the main hurdles the 113th Congress will face in passing a new long-term bill is the disparity between projected spending and the much lower projections of the revenue flows to the highway trust fund (HTF).
Taxes on gasoline and diesel provide 90% of the revenues for the HTF. The rates on these taxes, which are on a cents-per-gallon basis, have not been increased since 1993. In addition, the conditions of the economy and improvements in fuel economy have held down fuel consumption and as a result are adversely affecting HTF revenues. Therefore, Congress faces a dilemma: how to pass a bill without cutting infrastructure spending, raising the gas tax, or increasing the budget deficit.
The highway account has already required three transfers from the general fund totaling $29.7 billion, without which the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) might not have been able to pay states for work they completed.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that HTF revenues will continue to be inadequate to support spending on transportation programs after FY2014. They estimate that both the highway account and the mass transit account will reach zero dollars in FY15. If during this Congress, we passed a regular 6-year transportation bill that increases spending on programs in line with inflation, we would be faced with a nearly $85 billion gap between spending and HTF revenues. These are the difficult financial realities that Congress will face. However, I remain committed to a fully paid for, long term bill. And, I will look for alternative sources of revenue to help pay for it.
The challenges we face don’t make the need for a new long-term bill go away. The American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE) gives our transportation infrastructure a grade of “D,” and a recent federal report estimated that more than 11 percent of the nation’s bridges need timely repairs to avoid unsafe structural deficiencies. A new long-term bill will create true economic development and put our country on a path to prosperity. Short-term extensions fail to recognize that meaningful, large scale transportation projects take years to plan, approve, and implement.
It is with all of this in mind that I spearheaded an initiative in the 112th Congress to push for a fully-paid for and long-term bill. I lead conversations with the House Speaker and Transportation Committee Chairman, and urged them to link new oil and gas leasing revenue with funding for a long-term Highway Bill. This would not only be good for America’s energy security, but it would mean that we can fund important transportation projects without adding to our national debt. Additionally, I authored a letter to President Obama, co-signed by 110 other Members of Congress, and asked for his support of a long-term Highway Bill.
Aaron speaking before a group of Caterpillar employees
This was a bi-partisan letter that included an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. I also made a point to reiterate the importance of a new Highway Bill during various national and local media appearances.
Sixty cents out of every highway dollar doesn’t go toward actual construction, it goes to keeping the bureaucracy operating. I believe that there are many ways to cut back on red-tape and burdensome nonsense regulations, so that more money can actual go toward job-creating construction projects. For example, when the I-35W Minnesota Bridge collapsed in 2007, the replacement bridge was completed in 437 days. This is extremely quick compared to other projects that can drag on for nearly a decade. If we found ways to expedite the re-building of this bridge, surely we can find ways to expedite other transportation projects. I was pleased that the Highway Bill passed last Congress included some of these reforms.
We passed a Highway Bill that ensured Illinois’ funding formula would not change. Illinois will average over $1.38 billion a year in federal highway funding from the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), and the State’s percentage of the total HTF allocation increases from 3.52% to 3.67%. The new law also consolidates 2/3 of federal highway programs. Additionally, it cuts project approval time in half. These reforms will cut down on costly overhead and streamline processes so that actual construction projects can occur more quickly.
Global employers considering a presence in the United States will require a modern transportation infrastructure that enables them to move their finished products to the global market place in a timely and cost-efficient manner. Our aging and congested system is a strong disincentive for firms to expand their presence in the United States and create jobs here at home. A long-term transportation authorization will help make America more competitive in the global marketplace and create jobs in all sectors of our economy.
Press conference in Springfield pushing for long-term highway bill
Short-term proposals might fill a few pot holes and repave some roads, but it won’t create true and lasting development.
A long term highway bill will put people to work now, give states the longevity they need to plan and also help make the U.S. a manufacturing leader once again as businesses desiring to expand, locate and invest will do so here in the U.S. as we will have increased the ease in which they can transport their goods to the marketplace.
Specifically, some of the Illinois roadway projects that I support include: the Eastern Bypass, which would connect Interstate 74 with Illinois Route 6, east and north of Peoria; the Illinois 336, which would be a four-lane highway from Peoria to Macomb; improvements to U.S. Route 67 Corridor, which extends from I-280 at Rock Island to I-270 south of Alton; and the extension of Veterans Drive in Pekin; the Macomb Bypass, which would be a 6-mile bypass that will connect US 67 north of Macomb with Illinois 336 West of the city; and revitalizing the Warehouse District in Peoria. Ensuring these projects are completed is important to the economic vitality of our state.
Making sure that our nation’s farmers and manufacturers can efficiently ship their goods into the global marketplace is vital to America’s prosperity. Unfortunately, many of the locks and dams along the Illinois and Mississippi River are dilapidated and in need of serious repair. That is why I authored a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding the importance of the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP). This program works to improve the locks and dams along our rivers. I also lead a letter to House Appropriators reading the importance of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Construction Account, which funds programs to improve locks and dams.
Last Congress I also spearheaded a bi-partisan letter to the Army Corps regarding transportation on the Mississippi River. Because of the severe drought in 2012, low water levels threatened commerce along the Mississippi. This would have a detrimental impact on Illinois agriculture because farmers would lose a vital way to ship their commodities. My letter, which was co-signed by over 60 of my House colleagues, asked the Corps to continue with water releases that come from the Missouri River and flow into the Mississippi. Additionally, it asked the Corps to expedite rock pinnacle removal to ensure barge traffic could continue. I am pleased that the Corps agreed to speed up the rock pinnacle removal, and also release water into the Mississippi from other lakes in the area. This will be an ongoing issue that I will continue to monitor in 2013.
Aaron led the effort to keep the Mississippi River open for business
Last Congress I introduced the Agricultural Machinery Illumination Safety Act, which would require federal standards for lighting and marking requirements for agricultural machinery. This will help ensure are farmers are safe when transporting their product from the fields. I am happy to report that this was included as part of the 2012 Highway Bill that was signed into law by the President.
During the 112th Congress, I made it a point to fight against initiatives that will hurt our transportation network.
For instance, I voted against misguided amendments that would have stripped Amtrak of funding. Amtrak is important to our nation, and especially the State of Illinois.
I have made it a point to protect our general aviation community. I co-sponsored the BARR Preservation Act, which would prohibit the FAA from releasing private information about the movements of private aircraft.
I am pleased that this was included as part of the transportation funding bill for FY13. In the 112th Congress, also co-authored a letter to the House leadership and urged them to oppose general aviation tax increases.
I am also a champion of issues that are important to motorcycle riders. Last Congress, I co-sponsored efforts to ban the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from lobbying state legislators with federal tax dollars, and instead required them to focus on crash prevention and rider education and training.
I sent a letter to the Secretary of Transportation and urged him not to move forward with costly and not needed street and road sign replacement mandates on local governments. And, I co-authored a letter to the House Transportation Committee and urged them to support efforts to protect U.S. airline carriers from burdensome European environmental regulations that would have cost American jobs and raised airline ticket prices. I am pleased that both Congress and the President acted to prevent this from occurring.
Overall, there is still much more work to be done. I will continue to be an advocate for all forms of transportation, as doing so is imperative to keeping America competitive in a global marketplace.