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As early as August, the Highway Trust Fund is going to run short of money. States won’t be guaranteed to get reimbursed on time for money they’ve already spent! And by October, projects will be interrupted, halted, or never launched in the first place because of uncertainty over funding.
This will further weaken an already weak recovery. It will contribute to the slow deterioration of our system, undermine our global competitiveness, and demonstrate to the world that America can’t even get basic things done.
Several members of Congress, acting in good faith, have put forward plans to address our long-term funding issue. We applaud those efforts. Others are suggesting that the political reality is we’ll have to settle for an infusion of cash into the Highway Trust Fund as a stop-gap measure. That may be true, but it’s hardly the long-term solution we need if we want to maintain a world-class infrastructure system.
We need a comprehensive, forward-looking program that meets the needs of a competitive 21st century, that embraces innovative approaches, and that instills confidence and earns the support of a jaded citizenry.
I’d like to offer such a plan and over the next five days, I’ll be discussing the five pillars of that plan.
The first pillar is transparency and accountability.
Americans will never buy into a long-term funding plan until they are confident that their hard-earned dollars are going to be spent wisely. For decades, they’ve been fed stories of wasteful pork barrel projects, bridges to nowhere, and bringing home the proverbial bacon to win votes.
Although earmarks have been largely eliminated for transportation, much of the public still equates infrastructure spending with waste, fraud, and inefficiency.
That’s got to change. We need more transparency and accountability in the system, especially in how projects are selected, implemented, and paid for. The public has a right to expect more business-minded transportation and financial standards in infrastructure projects. All new construction and major upgrades should be subject to rigorous economic analysis that indicates a strong return-on-investment.
The public has a right to expect that once selected, projects are subject to strict performance management, are done in a timely fashion, and are as cost effective as possible.
And the public has a right to expect that when Congress promises to spend their money on transportation, they keep that promise and don’t divert the money to some other project.
Implementing these reforms will not only improve the efficiency of our system, deliver better benefits, and keep costs low, they will instill public confidence and trust that’s badly needed.
Tomorrow, I’ll tackle the regulatory system.