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Another Voice: Big investments are needed for U.S. infrastructure

By Mike Elmendorf and Dave Bauer

If placed end to end, the length of structurally deficient bridges in New York State would stretch nearly 52 miles and cover the area of 186 football fields, according to a new analysis of federal government data released April 1.

Nationally, there are more than 47,000 structurally deficient bridges, according to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association’s annual bridge conditions report card. Cars, trucks and school buses cross these compromised structures 178 million times every day, the data show.

In New York State, 1,757 bridges are structurally deficient and need urgent repair, with reconstruction work needed on 17,520 structures, accounting for almost all the bridges in the state. This work would cost an estimated $20 billion. New York ranks eighth in the nation in the number of structurally deficient bridges.

There has been an abject failure over many years by elected officials, particularly at the federal level, to make the investments necessary to keep our infrastructure in a state of good repair.

The American people are clamoring for action. A January 2019 Rasmussen Reports survey found that almost 90 percent of likely voters believe “the Democratic leadership and President Trump should work together during 2019 to pass legislation that would improve … infrastructure.”

So, what’s to be done?

The most pressing priority: fix the federal Highway Trust Fund, which is the source, on average, of more than 50 percent of all highway and bridge capital investments made annually by state transportation departments. In New York State, that number has averaged 47 percent.

The trust fund is in a world of financial hurt. Without new revenue, starting in 2021, states would face a 40 percent cut in investment.

All revenue options, including an increase in the federal gasoline tax for the first time since 1993, and new freight-related user fees, should be on the table.

As a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Brian Higgins will play a key leadership role in determining future funding for infrastructure. That same is true for Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer.

We urge them to “bridge” the political divide with President Trump in coming weeks to complete action this year on a multiyear bill that makes major new investments in our roads, bridges and public transit systems.

Mike Elmendorf is president and CEO of the New York State Chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America. Dave Bauer is president and CEO of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.

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