Current Infrastructure Mustn’t Strangle Growth

Posted February 25, 2005 at 2:46pm

In 1970, the amount of U.S. trade in goods totaled $83 billion. Today, that figure has grown to $2.29 trillion — nearly a 28-fold increase in 35 years. Over the same period, the U.S. population has grown by 40 percent and the number of registered vehicles has increased by 100 percent, yet our road capacity has increased by only 6 percent.

Our nation’s highway network serves as the country’s circulatory system. It is a system that connects commerce and consumers, work and work force, family and friends in and throughout our nation’s cities and regions. Yet if this system of highways and city streets becomes overburdened or stretched beyond its capacity, as it is today, the health and well being of our nation suffers.

Throughout our country, as in my home state of California, traffic congestion and gridlock are the primary factors for increased travel delays, vehicular accidents and rising freight transportation costs. Our citizens are spending more and more time stuck in traffic. In the past 35 years, we have revolutionized how we communicate and conduct commerce and transformed the size and scale of business in a global economy. Yet how we get our goods and services is the one element that hasn’t changed during that time.

To sustain our country’s population and trade growth, improve safety and security in a post-Sept. 11, 2001, world, we must invest in our nation’s transportation infrastructure, specifically with a concentrated investment and dedicated funding for goods movement projects. As a senior member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and founder of the Goods Movement Caucus, I have long advocated that Congress focus on a comprehensive goods movement policy within TEA-LU, the transportation reauthorization bill that Congress will consider this year.

During the 108th Congress, I introduced the Goods Movement Projects of National Economic Significance, legislation that focuses resources on projects and initiatives that promote the safe, secure and efficient movement of goods, and addresses the immediate and long-term needs of our transportation infrastructure. This legislation has been included in TEA-LU as the Projects of National and Regional Significance. My original bill called for an $18 billion investment in Projects of National and Regional Significance over five years. The current legislation that is included in TEA-LU (H.R. 3) calls for $6 billion in the same period. This is a good start.

The Projects of National and Regional Significance will target funding at strategic bottlenecks across the country where commerce and communities converge. Funding for projects in Chicago, Long Beach, New York and Seattle, where bottlenecks cause congestion and gridlock, will go a long way toward easing the burden on our infrastructure. The innovation of our economy and the integration of technology will do the rest.

Our nation’s economy is increasingly dependent on communication, timing and an effective transportation infrastructure. This is a delicate balance. With an economy built on speed and agility, “just in time” delivery is the way most major businesses run and grow their business. It minimizes the storage costs for businesses, allowing them to keep smaller inventories, which ultimately keeps consumer prices down across the country.

The positive aspect of this new dimension in transportation and business is that businesses remain confident that our transportation infrastructure can support timely, efficient and reliable deliveries. However, this delicate balance of communication, timing and efficient transportation trade corridors, imposes tremendous pressure on our transportation system. How long can our infrastructure hold up under the pressure we have placed upon it? My prediction is not long.

From 1990 to 2000, U.S. truck travel increased by 38 percent. Over the next 20 years, truck travel is expected to increase by 90 percent due to our expanding economy and our increased reliance on just-in-time delivery.

As a Representative from Long Beach, home of the largest port complex (Los Angeles-Long Beach) in the country and third largest in the world, I see first-hand the immediate and long-term needs that our nation and transportation infrastructure face in managing the movement of goods throughout our country. But I also see it through the eyes of our communities.

Southern California suffers from some of the worst air quality in the country, due to idling trucks and diesel-powered cargo ships. A higher proportion of our children suffer from asthma than in other parts of the nation. Our adults are more likely to contract cancer due in part to the diesel emissions emitted by trucks and ships. This is the human toll that not investing in our transportation infrastructure has imposed on our communities.

Finally, in the fall of 2002 the lockout that occurred at the western ports served as a grim reminder of just how interconnected and how dependent we are on one another in moving our nation’s goods. The lockout cost the U.S. economy an estimated $1 billion a day and resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs. It has hurt the bottom line of businesses, and it has rattled the confidence of our economy.

An investment in our transportation infrastructure is an investment in our economy, our communities, our citizens and our businesses. And as we have seen in the past 35 years, even a small investment will go a long way.

Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.) is the ranking member on the House Administration Committee and also sits on Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on highways, transit and pipelines.