Our nation must invest boldly in transportation
“Our unity as a nation is sustained by free communication of thought and by easy transportation of people and goods. Together, the unifying forces of our communication and transportation systems are dynamic elements in the very name we bear—the United States. Without them, we would be a mere alliance of many separate parts.”
This statement by President Dwight Eisenhower is as true today as it was when he made it in 1955. Transportation is the foundation of our everyday lives, getting people to jobs, products to markets and providing the freedom we cherish. But the country’s transportation system, constructed largely in the 1960s and ’70s, is growing older and increasingly congested.
Between now and the year 2050, the nation’s population will increase by 50 percent to 450 million people, generating additional freight and service needs that will vastly outpace projected transportation revenues. We urgently need a strong federal vision and partnership to address this pressing issue.
A national commission has put forth a bold initiative. I was proud to serve as one of 12 members on the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission. I am equally proud of the multimodal plan that the bipartisan commission forwarded to Congress after a 20-month fact-finding mission.
It outlines a national transportation strategy to enhance mobility for all users—urban commuters, rural residents and freight haulers. It envisions a system that is user-financed, environmentally responsible and technologically advanced. Much broader than highways, it emphasizes the need for a cultural shift from current travel habits, a greater role for public transit, and using the untapped potential of passenger rail to connect major population centers.
The commission report recognizes that implementing this ambitious vision will require significant new investments, along with tough accountability standards and performance-based measures to ensure public dollars are used wisely.
During the last 15 years, the country has undergone enormous changes. Yet over the same period, the federal motor fuel tax that helps support our personal and economic independence has remained stagnant. A federal gas tax increase would provide the interim funding needed to bring our infrastructure into a new century until innovative new revenue streams can be fully developed.
Most promising is a vehicle-miles-traveled, user-fee based system that must clear technological and privacy hurdles. Our current transportation needs are serious and so are the consequences of further inaction: urban congestion that wastes time and resources; the human toll of additional traffic fatalities; and America’s ability to compete in a global economy.
A half-century ago, the national Clay Commission outlined a vision and a funding plan that created the Interstate Highway System. The nation embraced that vision as a necessary investment in jobs, national security and personal freedom.
I hope you will join me in encouraging Congress to enact a similarly bold plan that will support our country’s economic and mobility needs for another 50 years.
Frank J. Busalacchi is secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Readers can contact him at the DOT, 4802 Sheboygan Ave., Room 120B, P.O. Box 7910, Madison, WI 53707-7910; phone (608) 266-1114 e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.