Jan 17, 2018 - 10:45am

How Should We Rebuild our Infrastructure? The U.S. Chamber Will Offer Up a Plan.

When it comes to America’s infrastructure, most of us know it must be modernized for sustained economic growth.

How can we get this done? 

U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue teased out the outlines of a plan to be released at America’s Infrastructure Summit. The part making headlines is one possible revenue source — raising the gas tax:

With President Trump and Congress turning their attention to infrastructure in the coming weeks, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is preparing for an uphill battle: a push to raise the federal gas tax by 25 cents per gallon to help pay for the initiative.

The proposal, which will be formally introduced later this week, is part of a series of principles the nation’s largest business lobby will offer in a bid to help shape the debate about upgrading U.S. roads, bridges, airports and other critical infrastructure.

Chamber President Thomas J. Donohue said his organization wants “to put our oar in the water” and acknowledged that it would be “a tough vote” to raise the gas tax for the first time since 1993. But he argued that support has been building in the business community and elsewhere.

“I’ve been pushing this for a long, long time, but now gangs of people are pushing it,” Donohue said in an interview in which he also said immigration reform would be critical to ensuring that sufficient labor is available for public works projects.

Donohue noted, the gas tax hasn’t increased in 25 years and isn’t indexed to inflation. This has put the Highway Trust Fund in a precarious position.

But fixing and modernizing our infrastructure needs a robust plan, covering many facets, Donohue noted:

Donohue said the chamber also plans to offer ideas to encourage additional private investments in infrastructure projects, including expansion of existing federal loan programs. And he said the chamber shares Trump’s goal of streamlining the permitting process for highways and other projects, including at the local level.

“It’s not worth spending the money to do this or the time if we don’t fix the permitting deal,” he said.

Because Washington has been unwilling to make tough choices, the nation’s infrastructure has suffered. It “earned” a “D+” grade in the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) most recent Infrastructure Report Card. The ASCE estimates that $2 trillion more over the next decade is needed to modernize the system.

A 2017 poll found 72% of all voters support the federal government taking the lead on infrastructure investment.

Business owners and leaders echo these views.

“We need more of a dedicated revenue source for infrastructure improvement to alleviate congestion,” said Clayton Harris, executive director of the Illinois International Port District. “It would allow the increased movement of goods and commodities that stimulates economic growth, helps small business growth, and allows larger businesses sustained growth.”

Peter Bowie, president and CEO, Ellicott Dredge in Baltimore, MD, said, “Whether it’s a road or a port or an airport, more infrastructure investment will be good for everyone, boosting jobs and the economy.”

At Thursday's America’s Infrastructure Summit, participants from business, labor, and the public sector will discuss not only how to pay for improvements, but what kind of workforce is needed to build it, and why doing it is critical for local communities and businesses.

The United States needs world-class infrastructure — we all agree. Getting here will cost money, no question about it. But the benefits gained — less traffic congestion, shorter commutes, and lower transportation costs, a stronger economy — will make it worth it.

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