Two major U.S. manufacturing groups have separately urged Congress and the Trump administration to take strong actions to dramatically improve entire networks of U.S. transportation facilities and other vital infrastructure.
They made their cases as President Trump and other administration officials continue to promise they will unveil a major infrastructure investment plan, and as federal reports show that highway traffic volume continues to grow to new record levels.
The Association of Equipment Manufacturers issued a report at mid-month that called for addressing needs on a system-wide basis, adding that a “project here and project there” approach will not work. It included a series of recommendations for policymakers to include in any investment program.
“America must tackle its infrastructure problems on a bigger scale,” the AEM report said. “For example, the Interstate Highway System would not have produced the economic benefits that it has if it was simply a series of disconnected segments. The benefits are derived from the fact that it is a connected network.”
AEM urged building out a national multimodal freight network with long-term funding for projects that erase transportation bottlenecks, making a major commitment to using smart technology in infrastructure projects, improving rural-urban connectivity, speeding up projects and locking in adequate funding streams.
“The United States once had an infrastructure system that was the envy of the world,” said AEM President Dennis Slater. “Our infrastructure competitiveness and our economic competitiveness are linked. This set of policy recommendations to reclaim our Infrastructure Advantage speak to that connection and outline what government officials should be thinking about as they consider future legislation.”
Also this month National Association of Manufacturers President Jay Timmons said in a letter to the Senate that his industry wants to see several national initiatives – an independent commission to evaluate priorities and revenue options, expedited environmental reviews and new options to fund or finance infrastructure to go beyond routine maintenance.
Timmons in his letter built on a 2016 NAM report but ticked off a long list of national needs that would amount to a major program of system-wide highway, transport, port, rail and aviation improvements.
He challenged policymakers to take responsibility for fixing the nation’s bridges. “Absent federal leadership, decades of delay continue to plague these projects,” Timmons wrote. “The communities that surround these key transportation links and the manufacturing jobs that rely on critical interstate commerce are diminished by insufficient bridge and tunnel infrastructure.”
Noting that factories are hampered by a transportation network in which 65 percent of major roads are rated less than good condition, which hikes freight shipment costs “like a hidden tax.” He added: “Manufacturers need federal policymakers to address the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund.”
Timmons advocated spending the full amount of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to deepen ports and harbors, expediting repairs to aged inland locks and dams used by the barge industry, eliminating the maintenance backlog for transit systems and expanding their reach into more communities, speeding up deployment of the NextGen air traffic upgrades, and other goals that would require strong funding commitments.
“Building a 21st century infrastructure system could transform not just manufacturing but also our entire economy,” he summed up. “It would empower us to build a country that lifts people up and leaves no one behind. Great nations build and invest in great infrastructure over the long term. Advancing a pro-manufacturing, comprehensive infrastructure initiative will undoubtedly boost growth and economic activity.”
The AEG and NAM activity reflects growing agreement among stakeholders on a number of key issues including the need for a strong level of new project investment, taking a systematic approach to it and seizing the opportunity to address revenue needs in the major accounts that have long paid for infrastructure projects.
This comes during a period when state department of transportation CEOs, who make up the board of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, have called for an investment program that fixes the trust fund’s revenue stream and routes funding through proven federal programs.
And this month 253 House members, more than half the chamber’s total and including majorities from both political parties, signed a letter calling for the chief tax writers to include a trust find fix in any tax reform legislation.