Infrastructure needs still outpace investments

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John L. Smith, guest column

In the trucking industry, we’re fond of calling ourselves the lifeblood of the American economy — delivering the goods that our stores, hospitals and restaurants need to maintain our quality of life.

And if our nation’s trucks are our economy’s blood, then our roads, highways and bridges are our economy’s circulatory system. We even call some of these routes by their medical names — arteries or arterials — emphasizing the metaphorical connection.

Like our own circulatory systems, it is of vital importance that we keep the veins and arteries of our economy clear and able to keep the fuel and food and clothing we depend on moving. Congestion is unhealthy — whether for our hearts or our economy. Last year, according to the American Transportation Research Institute, congestion cost the trucking industry almost $50 billion in wasted time and fuel.

The investments we make across the country, and here in Iowa, are important to making sure our highways are safe and efficient, and in recent years both the federal government and our state lawmakers have taken steps to address these critical needs.

Last year, Congress and the Obama administration took a big step toward keeping our infrastructure healthy when they came together to pass the FAST Act. The new highway bill will spend $305 billion on roads, bridges and highways over the next five years.

In Iowa, we have taken steps to address this as well — approving a 10-cent increase in the fuel tax and approving $700 million in highway construction last year. However, this is just a drop in the bucket to address our national need.

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that we need to spend $7.6 trillion by 2040 to bring our surface transportation infrastructure up to acceptable health. While that includes things such as rail and commuter projects, it also includes our highways and bridges. It is a tremendous amount of money that our governments, local, state and federal, need to invest in our roadways.

The easiest way to generate the revenue we need to improve our transportation systems is raising the fuel tax, which hasn’t been raised at the federal level since 1993 and now pays for nearly half what it used to due to inflation. The fuel tax efficiently raises money for roads, with just more than a penny per dollar going to administrative overhead and almost 98 cents going to actual steel, concrete and asphalt versus other, more costly and less efficient financing methods like tolling.

With four years to go on our federal highway bill, and after time to see the benefits of our own increase in spending, now is the time to begin serious discussions about what the future of transportation is going to be in Iowa and the country. Our economic health depends on a safe and efficient network of highways and we can’t have those if we don’t make the appropriate investments.

• John L. Smith is board chairman of CRST International, Inc. and secretary of the American Trucking Associations. More inforamtion: www.trucking.org

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