Guest column/Long-term highway bill needed
We know that infrastructure investments and job creation go hand-in-hand. Road and bridge projects don’t just mean safer and less congested roads and construction jobs they also help attract new employers and economic development. Two years ago, Democrats and Republicans came together to pass a two-year highway bill that allowed for approximately $50 billion per year for transportation programs. This bipartisan effort ensured that states could make highway and bridge repairs, build more efficient transportation routes, and invest in public transportation. But with 47 structurally deficient bridges in Jefferson County alone, more work is needed to protect Eastern Ohioans.
Unfortunately, the Highway Trust Fund, the major source of funding for these programs, is projected to run out of money by late August unless Congress acts. As the 2012 highway bill is set to expire on Sept. 30, it is critical that Congress, once again, passes a Federal Highway Bill.
A long-term highway bill would ensure construction projects get done on time, give local communities the ability to plan ahead, and help to boost economic development.
Every region of the state has large-scale projects – like a new Ohio River bridge in the Brilliant area – but a reduction in highway funding would also slow down the replacement of smaller roads and bridges.
More than 2,200 – or 8 percent – of bridges in Ohio are “structurally deficient” and require major repairs and renovations. A recent analysis showed that if all the structurally deficient bridges in the U.S. were placed end-to-end, it would take 25 hours driving 60 miles per hour to cross them. That’s like driving the roughly 1,600 miles from Ashtabula to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
For public safety and our economy – fixing these bridges is a necessity. Extending the Federal Highway Bill will provide greater efficiency and flexibility for states to invest federal resources to better rebuild aging bridges and roads.
The costs of not passing a highway bill are high. Ohio would lose tens of millions of dollars in funding for critical road and bridge repair projects, preventing much needed investment. This would limit economic development and harm productivity due to an increase in traffic congestion, halt public transportation projects and put public safety at risk. In addition, the livelihoods of the more than 100,000 Ohioans who work in the road-building industry are at risk if Congress does not act.
World-class infrastructure is how we move goods from Steubenville to Martins Ferry and from Ohio to all parts the country. It’s how we attract businesses and workers into Ohio. Supporting infrastructure projects secures existing jobs, creates new jobs, and keeps communities safe. Failure to pass a highway bill will only cause construction delays and create uncertainty for local governments and business. Congress must pass a long-term highway bill and commit to investing in our communities’ economic development and safety.
(Brown, a Democrat, represents Ohio in the United States Senate.)