Last month, I had the honor of attending the grand opening of Denver’s Union Station. The new transit hub pays homage not only to the miners and pioneers who — more than 150 years ago — envisioned our city’s bright future, but also to our parents and grandparents who had the foresight and generosity to build the highways, waterways and energy infrastructure that helped make the American economy the largest in the world.
Unfortunately, we have not had the dignity to maintain the assets that they built for us, much less build the infrastructure our children will need to compete in a 21st-century economy. At a time when other nations are constructing cutting-edge road, rail, Internet and education capacity, our public infrastructure investment has dwindled to half of what it was 50 years ago.
The Highway Trust Fund, the funding vehicle that pays for most of the bridge, highway and road construction in this country, is expected to run out of money this summer. Last year, the U.S. received a D-plus letter grade on the Infrastructure Report Card from the American Society of Civil Engineers.
To make matters worse, the bill that authorizes transportation projects called MAP-21, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, is set to expire Sept. 30.
It’s clear that we are falling woefully behind. We can and must do better.
Rather than arguing over which party got us into this dire situation or pointing fingers at who’s to blame, some of us in Congress have been working on solutions. Here’s one that will help.
Earlier this year, Republican Sen. Roy Blunt and I introduced the Partnership to Build America Act. It establishes a $50 billion infrastructure fund to support hundreds of billions in loan guarantees and financing authority for state and local governments.
The fund could be used to finance the construction of roads, highways, ports, canals, schools and other infrastructure projects — urgently needed projects like the Arkansas Valley Conduit in southeast Colorado or the widening of Interstate 25 north of Denver, to pick just two examples. The act would also encourage public-private partnerships, which will help stretch the fund’s financing to cover more high-priority projects. Even by the most conservative estimates, these projects would create thousands of jobs across the nation.
The fund itself would not be created by taxpayers, but by U.S. companies. The act encourages businesses to contribute to the fund by creating an incentive to bring a limited amount of their earnings back to the country from overseas.
This bill is not a cure-all. It is not a permanent fix to the insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund, nor will it take the place of MAP-21, both important legislative vehicles that Congress needs to address in the next four months.
Whether it’s an interchange reconstruction in El Paso County to improve traffic flow, or a road-widening project in Alamosa County to improve visitor access to the Great Sand Dunes, this bill will provide a valuable tool in the toolbox so that local mayors, county commissioners and city councilors don’t have to wait on a dysfunctional Washington to get moving on much-needed infrastructure projects.
As Denver’s Union Station shows, we’re a nation and a state that builds big things, and builds them to last. Each generation has labored to leave more behind for their kids. Ours should be no exception. This commonsense, bipartisan legislation will help us take a step in that direction.