For too long, motorists in Western New York have had to settle for dodging potholes and rerouting around collapsing bridges. When the snow melts each spring, the Buffalo Niagara region is left with the harsh reality of what another winter has done to an underfunded and neglected infrastructure system.
At the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s recent Capital Conversations event, Ed Mortimer, Vice President of Transportation and Caroline Harris, Vice President of Tax Policy from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce shared their perspectives on the significant need for an infrastructure modernization plan and the political reality of the roadmap to getting there.
The Cost of Inaction is Too High
Mortimer shared the significant need for swift action as the cost of repairing our nation’s decaying infrastructure will only get worse and more expensive as time passes. In today’s ecommerce world, our existing infrastructure was not built to sustain the levels of wear and tear they are receiving each year from residential and commercial traffic.
The chronic underinvestment in infrastructure has had a significant impact on our economy and the safety of our residents on the road. On average, driving on roads in need of repair costs U.S. motorists $131 billion per year. Here at home in Buffalo Niagara, driving on deficient roads costs the average driver $1,726 a year. Residents are left to pay the price while leaders in Washington are struggling to agree on how to pay for long overdue repairs.
How to Pay for It
Most Americans can agree that action must be taken to fix the problem, the only question left is how do we pay for it? Mortimer and Harris shared with members the U.S. Chamber’s four-point approach to funding a new infrastructure investment:
- Increase the federal fuel fee: The Chamber’s plan proposes a five-cent increase over five years on the federal fuel fee, with a cost to the average motorist of about $9 a month. The federal fuel fee has not been increased since 1993.
- Expand financing options: The Chamber plan would strengthen and expand federal loan programs to encourage private-public partnerships.
- Expedite Project Timeline: The Chamber proposed permit streamlining, urging all federal infrastructure approvals to be completed within two years. State and local projects benefiting from federal assistance should also adhere to a two-year timeline. To streamline permitting and eliminate duplicative reviews, the Chamber proposes a single lead agency to shepherd projects through the process from beginning to end.
- Workforce Development: The Chamber is a strong supporter of apprenticeship programs to allow workers to learn on the job.
Mortimer and Harris examined the shift of funding sources for infrastructure projects with a higher responsibility being placed on localities. This push for more local investment is forcing municipalities to turn over every stone to come up with all they can locally before approaching the federal government to reach the finish line.
The Time to Take Action is Now
Mortimer and Harris expressed the historic opportunity Congress and the Administration have to fund a long overdue infrastructure modernization plan. President Reagan raised the federal gas tax in 1982 to improve our nation’s infrastructure, and President Trump and Congress have the opportunity to rebuild that infrastructure.
Crumbling infrastructure across the country represents a roadblock for residents and their quality of life, as well as businesses and their ability to succeed. The American people deserve a significant investment in our nation’s infrastructure. Join the Buffalo Niagara Partnership in urging Congress to invest in infrastructure now.