The Hill: Time Is Now To Address Infrastructure Needs

By:  U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe

It is a new day in Washington—with a Republican back in the White House—and the time is now for us to address our country’s roads, bridges and waterways. When it comes to finding agreement on infrastructure, partisanship has never been an issue for me. 

This Congress, as chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I), I plan to build on the successes of the last two years, and work in tandem with the White House, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and our agencies to improve infrastructure across the country. 

Last Congress, then-Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and I led the charge in passing the much-needed Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act—the sixth reauthorization bill I’ve worked on and the biggest since 1998—however, the current investment falls short of fully addressing our country’s needs. The FAST Act authorizes about $305 billion over the course of five years but DOT estimates the backlog of highway and bridgework in the United States is close to $836 billion. 

In 1987, when I was first elected to the House of Representatives, the biggest problem we had with the Highway Trust Fund was that it had too much money. Those days are long gone, but this year the president and DOT Secretary Elaine Chao, along with Congress, will consider a trillion-dollar infrastructure package; a package that will address ports, waterways, airports and energy needs, in addition to roads and bridges. 

The federal government has been and will continue to be the leader in addressing our infrastructure needs, but it is necessary that our state and local partners meet us part of the way. 

The federal government provides an 80 or 90 percent match towards most projects and states should make it a priority to match the remaining percentage, recognizing the value infrastructure projects provide to their economies especially in attracting businesses, and providing  for safe transportation nationwide. 

Even as state and local partners emphasize infrastructure, we need to find responsible and meaningful ways to attract and leverage additional private investment to help further close the gap. All options are on the table and we should look for ways to incentivize our non-federal partners to use them. 

One of these options is the use of public-private partnerships, which leverage private investments to break ground on projects. Public-private partnerships also give states freedom to address specific priorities when public funding at the full cost may not be available. While public-private partnerships are not a solution everywhere, the administration, Secretary Chao and I are looking at all the ways we can encourage infrastructure investment to ensure long-term results while creating jobs and promoting economic development. 

This infrastructure week, the EPW Committee heard from Secretary Chao herself, who reaffirmed her commitment to working with Congress to enact the administration’s transportation and infrastructure priorities. Soon, the administration will announce its infrastructure principles, which will help keep the ball rolling in Congress. 

I am committed to continue taking the lead as chairman of T&I, along with EPW Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), in passing yet another infrastructure bill. I look forward to working with my friends and colleagues to ensure our roads, bridges, ports, waterways and energy infrastructure work for this country.