Let's Rebuild America

Economic productivity and global competitiveness depend on thriving and reliable transportation infrastructure. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as the leading voice of America’s business community, believes that strong transportation infrastructure will lower operating costs, increase profitability, mitigate logistical challenges, and provide a catalyst for investment.

It’s time to get America moving again.

 

 

The Four Pillars of Rebuilding

Federal Motor Vehicle Fee

It Is Past Time to Adjust the Federal Motor Vehicle User Fee

To rebuild and expand our roads, bridges, and transit systems, it is time for a modest increase in the federal motor vehicle fuel user fee.

The user fee was last raised in 1993. Since then, inflation has eroded nearly 40% of the value of the user fee. In addition, vehicles are significantly more fuel-efficient than they were 25 years ago. As a result, motorists use less fuel to drive the same number of miles, and there is significantly less revenue to maintain the roads they drive on.

As the charts below indicate, relative to 1993, Americans are driving more, but using less gasoline. Add in the impact of inflation, and by 2013 drivers were contributing 42% less to support our federal road system even though they were driving 4% more miles.

Because of Washington’s failure to adjust the user fee, the highway and transit trust fund faces a shortfall of $138 billion over the next decade. And that is just to continue today’s insufficient levels of investment.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce is calling for an increase of 5 cents a year in each of the next 5 years for a total of 25 cents. The proposal would include indexing the tax for inflation and for future increases in fuel economy, so there would be no need to revisit this issue in the foreseeable future.

The proposal would raise $394 billion over the next 10 years, which would be invested in our highways, bridges, and transit systems in a fiscally responsible fashion. When combined with state, local, and private sector funds, this would go a long way towards modernizing the nation’s once-great interstate system.

All this would cost the average American only about $9 a month in additional gas taxes. This figure, however, is dwarfed by the cost of inaction. According to one recent study, drivers in urban and surrounding suburban areas incur $516 in additional vehicle operating costs as a result of driving on roads in need of repair. Congestion is also stealing time from American families. The average commute time to work has increased by 35 minutes a week between 1990 and 2015.

Many say that it is politically impossible to raise the gas tax. This a fallacy. Since 1993, 39 states have raised their own state motor fuel user fees. This includes red and blue states alike, including over the past several years: Indiana, Tennessee, South Carolina, Oregon, and New Jersey.

Public/Private Partnerships

Facilitating Greater Public and Private Investment in Critical Infrastructure

Our infrastructure needs exceed $2 trillion. Neither the government nor the private sector can solve this crisis alone.

Rebuilding and modernizing our airports, ports, waterways, water systems, dams, rail systems, utilities, and other core infrastructure requires a multi-faceted financial approach that includes leveraging private-sector resources. We can meet today’s infrastructure needs and build for the future by financing the costs over the long-term.

Yet today, America largely finances its public infrastructure needs the way it always has: municipal bonds and cash. As early as the 1990s, other parts of the world began using innovative financing mechanisms to leverage greater resources for current infrastructure needs. It is past time for the United States to do the same.

For some sense of what innovative financing could help support, consider that from 2005-2015, infrastructure equity funds raised approximately $350 billion, according to Infrastructure Investor. Since equity is about 25 percent of a typical public private partnership, that $350 billion could support projects worth $1.4 trillion.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce believes communities should have a large toolkit of funding and financing options available for infrastructure projects. To that end, Congress should:

  • Expand and improve existing federal loan programs covering transportation, water, and rail (e.g.
  • TIFIA, WIFIA, and RRIF) to make it easier for the private sector to participate in infrastructure projects and leverage an average of $40 for every dollar of federal funding;
  • Create a new loan / loan guarantee program to finance a broad array of infrastructure projects with
  • loans to be repaid through dedicated public or private funding streams (the bipartisan proposal for a $50 billion fund leveraged 15:1 and thus supporting up to $750 in loans or guarantees is one possible model);
  • Remove statutory and regulatory barriers to public-private partnerships
  • o for example, federal law currently limits to 10 the number of airports that could be practically sold or leased to the private sector; o the use of public private partnerships should be specifically authorized and encouraged with respect to federal assets with significant maintenance backlogs and the means of generating revenue or their own dedicated funding stream (such as waterways and dams);
  • Create a discretionary grant program to stimulate competition and leverage state, local, and
  • private sector funds for projects of national significance; and
  • Expand private activity bonds.
A small federal investment now would leverage significant additional funding infrastructure projects. This would allow the nation to embark on the rebuilding that we need now without breaking the bank.

Streamlined Permit Process

None of This Can Happen Unless America’s Permitting Process is Streamlined

The permitting process for major infrastructure projects is broken. It can take longer to get government permits than it takes to construct a project. It takes on average approximately five years to complete an environmental impact statement, a federal requirement for many projects. And depending on the type of project, permitting can involve state and local approvals in addition; to a myriad of federal permits.

The Association of General Contractors of America described the current situation well in testimony before the Senate stating:

“These processes are bureaucratic, lengthy, complex, and duplicative. They involve multiple interrelated approvals within a labyrinth of numerous agencies. Throughout these processes, too often, litigation abounds. Delays deny the public the substantial benefits that come from a construction project: improving our economy, our competitiveness, and our quality of life.”

To their credit, Congress and the administration in recent years have taken steps to improve the federal permitting process. Title 41 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST-41) established a process for environmental review that caps the amount of time for reviews, places a statute of limitations on lawsuits on reviews, and designates a lead agency that coordinates concurrent reviews among all reviewing agencies. This is a great start, but more must be done not only to expand these streamlining steps for environmental reviews, but to take additional steps to speed up final permit decisions.

It should never take more than two years to complete all federal permits required for an infrastructure project.

And this is am imminently achievable goal. Many of our global economic competitors, including Germany, Canada, and Australia, complete environmental permitting reviews in under 2 years—all while providing environmental protections equaling or exceeding those in the U.S.

It is critical that any infrastructure package include meaningful reforms to the federal environmental review and permitting processes. The Chamber recommends the following common sense reforms:

  • Merge sequential and duplicative federal environmental reviews;
  • End duplication of previously completed environmental reviews and studies;
  • Implement citizen suit reform to prevent misuse of environmental laws and ensure that post- approval lawsuits do not needlessly delay projects; and
  • Codify the “One Federal Decision” approach so there is a single agency responsible for shepherding a project through the approval process.
In addition, projects that benefit from federal funding or financing should be subject to a similar requirement with respect to state and local permits: as a condition of receiving federal funds, states must agree to ensure the process should never take more than two years and should run concurrently with the federal permitting process.

Necessary Workforce

The Workforce Necessary to Rebuild Our Infrastructure

Rebuilding America’s infrastructure will require skilled workers ready and able to take on new projects. Yet today – before any major new investment in our infrastructure, 78% of construction firms report that they are having a hard time finding qualified workers.

The USG+U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index has found that, though demand for new projects increases, a majority of contractors struggled to find skilled workers in 2017 and anticipate facing the same challenge in 2018.

In 2017, there were an average of 192,000 unfilled construction jobs openings per month (through November). That is up 119% from an average of 88,000 a month five years ago. If we do not expand the construction workforce, it will be impossible to move ahead with the projects that need to be undertaken.

Congress and the administration must take key steps to help address the worker shortage. To increase the number of skilled workers, policymakers should:

  1. Reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) Act – Capitalize on the opportunity to update the long-overdue Perkins Act to modernize our nation’s K-12 and community college career and technical education programs, which are a key source of talent and a driver for young adults to pursue careers in the growing construction industry.
  2. Leverage the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) – Use WIOA, reauthorized in 2014, to expand the national network of sector-based construction partnerships so that public workforce training funds and incentives can be utilized to grow America’s construction workforce.
  3. Modernize America’s Apprenticeship System – Advance the recommendations of the apprenticeship Task Force, as convened by President Trump’s Executive Order in 2017, to support the business sector as they build new opportunities for earn and learn pathways, including within the construction industry.
It is also important that we keep the skilled workers currently in the workforce thanks to programs like DACA and TPS.

Approximately 41,000 DACA recipients are employed in the construction industry, as are approximately 51,000 TPS beneficiaries. Congress should act now to ensure that these workers can continue to live and work in this country.

Ultimately, Congress needs to enact immigration reform so that we can attract and admit the skilled workers our nation needs.

Recent Activity

EventApr 25, 2019 - 7:30am to 5:00pm
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Transportation Border Summit

In order to maintain the momentum generated during 2018, the Beyond Preclearance Coalition, in partnership with the US and Canadian Chambers of Commerce, will host a Transportation Border Summit on 25 April 2019 in Washington DC.

Press ReleaseMar 14, 2019 - 9:00am

Commercial Construction Survey Shows 70% of Contractors Struggling to Meet Project Deadlines as Labor Shortage Persists

Mending Younger Workers’ Unfavorable Perception of Construction Careers Provides Opportunity to Revitalize Workforce

 

TestimonyFeb 07, 2019 - 10:15am

Testimony on The Impact of Inaction on an Infrastructure Modernization Plan

“The Impact of Inaction on an Infrastructure Modernization Plan”

Rich McArdle
President, UPS Freight

Before the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
United States House of Representatives

SpeechFeb 05, 2019 - 9:45am

Remarks from Thomas J. Donohue at the 2019 Infrastructure Summit

As Prepared for Delivery

 

Introduction

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. We’re glad you could join us today for this timely summit on the urgent need to invest in our nation’s infrastructure.

Press ReleaseDec 11, 2018 - 9:00am

Commercial Construction Looks to Advanced Technologies to Alleviate Workforce Challenges and Improve Productivity

74 Percent of Contractors Anticipate Using Technologies Like Drones, Equipment Tagging, Wearables, and Virtual Reality in the Next Three Years