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America's GPA: D+
Estimated Investment Needed by 2020:
$3.6 Trillion

Congressional Hearings Focus on Aviation, Flood Control

March 3rd, 2017 | By: Whitford Remer

As the President’s repeated in his address to Congress his pledge to dramatically increase infrastructure spending to the tune of $1 trillion, various Congressional Committees have been holding hearings to explore the need. While the hearings reflect broad and even growing support on Capitol Hill for infrastructure spending, they also illustrate major hurdles, chief among them and one that has bedeviled infrastructure advocates for a very long time, how to pay for it. On the House side, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has begun a series of hearings to highlight the need among specific infrastructure categories. Using the title “Building a 21st Century for America,” the hearings explore the federal role in several infrastructure categories. On March 1st, the Committee’s Aviation Subcommittee looked at the state of the nation’s airports, with a panel of airport executives including Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and the Greater Asheville (NC) Regional Airport Authority. The executives noted different challenges faced by different sized airports and the need for flexibility, both in how they are able to spend grant money received through the Airports Improvement Program (AIP) and the ability to set the appropriate level for the Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs) that airports can charge, which has been capped by Congress at $4.50. During the hearing, full Committee Ranking Democrat Peter DeFazio (D-OR) announced he had joined with Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) in offering legislation to remove the cap on PFCs and permitting airports to set the level as they see fit. The panel also noted that under the new pricing policies instituted by airlines, while the ticket tax that funds the AIP is applied to the basic ticket, additional charges such as baggage fees are not subject to the tax, costing the program millions of dollars. Finally, both members of the Committee and the panelist agreed that the recent pattern of short-term authorizations of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its programs has made it hard to make long-term plans and have increased the cost of the capital projects. ASCE strongly agrees with the airport executives and supports increasing funding for the AIP, removing the cap from the PFCs and longer-term authorization for the FAA. Meanwhile in the Senate, the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing titled “Flood Control Infrastructure: Safety Questions Raised by Current Events.” The hearing was prompted in large part by the recent spillway deteriorations and ensuing evacuations around California’s Oroville Dam, the tallest dam in the nation. Among the witnesses were Lieutenant General Todd T. Semonite, Commanding General and Chief of Engineers U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Larry Larson, Director Emeritus & Senior Policy Advisor for Association of State Floodplain Manager. General Seminote talked about his agency’s role in providing flood protection infrastructure across the country. Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) pressed the General on the Agency’s benefit-cost analysis formula for selecting projects, which relies, in-part, on property value. Sen. Barrassso, the new Chairman of the Committee emphasized this type of formula pitted urban project against more rural projects in his home state of Wyoming. Larry Larson and several Senators also raised the important point that there are flood control programs authorized by Congress in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 and Water Resources Development Act of 2016 that have not received any federal funding. Larry Larson also told the panel that private funding will not cover the full cost for dam and levee repair. “Our experience shows that financial incentives are very difficult to apply to these projects,” adding that that federal funding would be needed.

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President’s Address Includes Infrastructure

March 1st, 2017 | By: Becky Moylan

On Tuesday night, President Trump addressed a joint-session of Congress for the first time in his presidency. Infrastructure was among the many issues he discussed. The President highlighted the interstate highway system as a the “last truly great national infrastructure program,” before calling for a “new program of national rebuilding” and vowing to ask Congress to pass legislation for $1 trillion in infrastructure investment, “financed through both public and private capital.” Infrastructure investment was one of the President’s core campaign promises. While there still needs to be much more shared about the infrastructure legislation described, including what the mix of public and private capital will be and how this investment will be allocated across our nation’s significant infrastructure needs, this is an encouraging step toward fulfilling what the President pledged during the campaign. The speech came just 10 days before ASCE will release its new 2017 Infrastructure Report Card. The report will again provide grades and analysis of 16 categories of infrastructure and offer key solutions and category solutions to raise the grades. One of the core solutions you can expect to read and hear about is the need for investment, and even more specifically government funding. To have lasting progress for our infrastructure, the federal government must commit to not only financing infrastructure programs but funding them. Funding must supplement – rather than replace – long-term solutions, regular appropriations, and scheduled reauthorizations. This tenet is one ASCE also focuses on in its Principles for Infrastructure Investment, released during the Presidential Transition. Americans recognize our infrastructure needs are significant—a new investment gap number will also be released on March 9 in the Report Card. They are also solvable, beginning with federal infrastructure legislation that:
  • Includes investment that provides substantial, long-term benefits to the public and the economy;
  • considers the cost of an infrastructure project over its entire life span;
  • ensures projects are built sustainably and resiliently;
  • does not replace existing federal, state, local, or private infrastructure funding.
Explore the full Principles and mark your calendar for March 9 at 9:30 a.m. ET to watch the Report Card grades reveal live via webstream.

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House T&I Committee Examines How to Build a 21st Century Infrastructure

February 2nd, 2017 | By: Laura Hale

Yesterday the House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee held a hearing titled “Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America.” It was the Committee’s first hearing in the 115th Congress and came on the heels of both President Trump’s pledge to focus on infrastructure and a trillion dollar infrastructure investment blueprint previewed by Senate Democrats last week. The panel of witnesses represented private industry (FedEx, Cargill, BMW and Vermeer) that relies on the country’s vast infrastructure networks, with the exception of Richard Trumka, President of AFL-CIO, whose union members build, maintain and operate much of the nation’s infrastructure. Getting the hearing off to a fiery start was Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-4th OR), who picked up right where he left off last Congress—emphasizing the need to fix the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) (a bit of background…in December of last year Rep. DeFazio gave an impassioned speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives during votes on the Water Resources Development Act, criticizing the final bill for not including language to spend down funds collected by the HMTF). Rep. DeFazio laid out three key areas he wants the Committee to focus on this year: indexing the gas tax to inflation, spending the existing $9 billion in the HMTF that has been used to offset a portion of the deficit and raising the cap on passenger facility charges for airports. Members of the Committee and witnesses agreed that these were important issues. David MacLennan, Chairman and CEO of Cargill, reminded legislators not to get carried away by dazzling new innovations like electric cars, microgrids and high-speed rail saying “As exciting as new technologies are, we should also think about our traditional assets. So the remainder of my testimony will focus not on the shiny objects, but on the ones that tend to get rusty: the rails, roads, bridges and waterways of rural America.” The panelists also all spoke about the importance of the federal government providing real funding to infrastructure projects, not just financing. Frederick W. Smith, Chairman and CEO of FedEx even went so far to say that he had been testifying in the T&I Committee room for 40 years and was ready to see real infrastructure investment. The Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to hold its own hearing examining infrastructure challenges and opportunities soon.

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Democrats’ Infrastructure Blueprint Furthers Legislative Conversation

January 26th, 2017 | By: Becky Moylan

Days after President Trump was the first to use the word “infrastructure” in an inaugural address, Senate Democrats doubled-down on his promise to invest in infrastructure by offering their own plan to increase investment by $1 trillion over 10 years, and purportedly create more than 15 million new jobs in the process. The plan, led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and dubbed “A Blueprint to Rebuild America’s Infrastructure,” proposes many investments that ASCE has advocated for over the last two decades, including in the 2013 Infrastructure Report Card. The obvious one is increased investment. At $1 trillion—a figure originally proposed by President Trump during his campaign—this or a similar plan would go a long way in closing the $1.6 trillion infrastructure investment gap. The “Blueprint” also emphasizes addressing backlogged needs, which have been growing for far too long and are at the root of our nation’s “D+” infrastructure. The “Blueprint” offers a good start to furthering our lawmakers’ dialogue on what a large infrastructure bill should include, and how our nation can wisely invest $1 trillion, ensuring ROI and addressing our significant infrastructure needs. In particular, the “Blueprint’s” approach of dividing investment across the 16 categories of infrastructure is important to improving the entirety of the interdependent infrastructure system. But to make the most of this substantial of an investment with an eye on the future, it will be even more important to select the right projects. ASCE has outlined its vision for what a large infrastructure investment bill should include in our “Principles for Infrastructure Investment.” We will rely on these “Principles” to engage Congress as it reacts to the “Blueprint” and considers a path forward on this critical economic and social issue, balancing needed investment with judicious planning to effectively address our infrastructure needs. Here are some of the highlights of how the Senate Democrats’ “Blueprint” breaks down from ASCE’s perspective*:
  • $210 billion for roads and bridges – ASCE recently identified surface transportation as the infrastructure area with the largest unfunded need.
  • $10 billion to expand TIGER – Increasing funding into proven programs is an excellent way to ensure that the investment is used effectively.
  • $110 billion for water and sewer – The “Blueprint” notes that underinvestment has happened in our drinking and wastewater infrastructure in part because of a hesitancy to increase water rates. An infusion of additional funding will help bring these systems back up to where they need to be for Americans’ safety and quality of life.
  • $180 billion for rail and bus – Divided into $130 billion for public transit and $50 billion for rail, which will include acceleration of implementing Positive Train Control.
  • $200 billion for transformative projects – Vital Infrastructure Projects (VIPs) as the “Blueprint” calls them would help to elevate not just the quality of our infrastructure, but also put us on a strong path for the future.
  • $75 billion for schools – Most of our school buildings were built to originally teach baby boomers and modernization is desperately needed so that schools can prepare students for the 21st
  • $65 billion for ports, inland waterways, and airports – Broken down to $30 billion for airports, including through the effective Airport Improvement Program (AIP) and to implement NextGen, $10 billion for dredging, lock maintenance and other needs for ports and inland waterways, and $25 billion to build more resilient communities, which ASCE has highlighted the importance of as one of its eight key criteria when assessing infrastructure.
  • $100 billion for energy – Including upgrades in transmission and distribution, along with increased resilience.
  • $20 billion for public lands – Directed in part to increased funding for the National Park Service, which infamously has had challenges maintaining its infrastructure, including the iconic Arlington Memorial Bridge.
  • $10 billion in seed money for an “IBank” – Expected to be $100 billion for infrastructure once fully leveraged, this would be a way to test the Infrastructure Bank concept on the national level. The Blueprint also notes the need to protect WIFIA and TIFIA, two programs that like TIGER have proven value and should be used to ensure strategic investment.
Missing from the proposal is funding of water resources projects authorized in WRDA14 and WIIN16. These programs would improve dams, levees, and other water resource infrastructure that are in need of improvement and would benefit from an infusion of investment. One other major sticking point when it comes to federal infrastructure investment: How to pay for it. Democrats maintain the proposal’s $1 trillion investment would be covered by closing tax loopholes.  Under its “Principles,” ASCE supports infrastructure investment from all levels of government and the private sector. Ultimately, our nation needs a long-term, sustainable funding solution for all areas of infrastructure. A down payment to modernize our infrastructure that is funded, not just financed, will put us on the right track. *Italicized text notes ASCE’s comments on specific parts of the proposal based on ASCE Public Policy Statements.

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WRDA Passes The House

September 29th, 2016 | By: Whitford Remer

The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5303 the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 late yesterday afternoon by a vote of 399-25. The $11.5 billion bill authorizes over three dozen Army Corps of Engineers flood control, navigation and ecosystem restoration projects and studies across the country.  In addition to the base text reported out of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee nearly 40 amendments were added to the bill on the House floor. The final amendment to the bill authorizes $170 million in aid for Flint, Michigan to assist with the drinking water crisis. For months Congress has been struggling with how to respond to the drinking water issue in Flint. At one point earlier this week, democrats were prepared to shut down the government unless the Flint issue was resolved. Around midnight Tuesday, leaders agreed to address Flint in the House WRDA bill, which cleared the way for both short term government spending bill and gave WRDA the votes necessary to pass. Prior to the Flint amendment, democrats threatened to block the bill because another provision requiring funds in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) to be spent every year was stripped out last minute. Democrats led by T&I Ranking Member Peter Defazio (D-OR) wanted to ensure the HMTF was used to the fullest extent each year, whereas now its funds are subject to an unpredictable annual appropriations process. The House WRDA bill is much narrower than the version passed in the Senate two weeks ago by a vote of 95-3. The Senate bill includes a similar list of Army Corps projects, $220 million for Flint and an entirely separate title dedicated to improving the nations drinking water and clean water infrastructure. The additional water infrastructure programs will be the subject of intense the negotiations between Senate and House staff while Congress is home campaigning prior to the November election. When congress returns for the lame duck session in December, the hope is there will be agreement on a WRDA bill that both chambers can easily pass and send to the President’s desk. Congress has committed to passing a WRDA bill every two years, with the last one passing in 2014. Prior to that WRDA bills passed in 2007 and 2000.

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With Gas Prices Low, Congress Has Opportunity to #FixTheTrustFund

August 8th, 2016 | By: Laura Hale

Last month’s average gas price in the U.S. was the lowest for July since 2004. Cheap gas coupled with an improved economy is spurring Americans to drive more. After a decrease during the recession, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is climbing again. Summer is the busiest time on U.S. roads and many drivers will find themselves stuck in traffic, whether they’re headed to work or the beach. In 2014, Americans spent 6.9 billion hours sitting in traffic (42 hours per driver). The wasted time and gas add up—the total cost of congestion in 2014 was $160 billion ($960 per driver).

vmt 4Estimated VMT based on traffic volume trends. Federal Highway Administration.

A major contributor to congestion is the underinvestment into our road network. According to AASHTO, there is a $629 billion backlog of highway needs. For the federal government and most states, taxes on gasoline and diesel are the primary funding source for highways, but the tax rates frequently have not been raised in years, sometimes decades. Many states are considering plans to raise their fuel taxes to increase their investment in highway infrastructure and last year nine states actually did it. Despite these tax increases, the price drivers pay at the pump has continued to go down—one study by ARTBA even shows that a gas tax increase does not have a direct impact on the price at the pump. Federal lawmakers unfortunately have not followed their lead. The federal Highway Trust Fund has been flirting with insolvency since 2008 because its primary funding source, an 18.4 cent per gallon tax on gasoline and a 24.4 cent per gallon tax on diesel, has not been raised since 1993. Inflation has cut its real value by 40%. The fund has been propped up by $140 billion in transfers from the general fund. In order to ensure adequate and stable funding for America’s highways, the Trust Fund needs a sustainable funding source. The most direct and immediate way to #FixTheTrustFund is to increase the tax on gas and diesel a sufficient amount at the federal level to stop the need for general fund transfers and allow for increased investment to address the backlog.  Meanwhile, there should be additional pilot programs to test charging motorists based on how much they use roads with the long-term goal of using mileage-based user fees to fund the federal highway trust fund to prepare for the future. It’s time for Congress to step up and #FixTheTrustFund.

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House Passes Resolution Limiting Options to Fix the Highway Trust Fund

June 10th, 2016 | By: Laura Hale

Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed H. Con. Res. 112, a resolution introduced by Rep. Boustany (R-LA) and co-sponsored by 11 Republicans expressing Congress’ opposition to new fees on oil. As yesterday’s blog post highlighted, this resolution may be non-binding, but it puts Congress on the record in opposition to a viable option for fixing the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). Because the gas tax rate has not kept up with inflation, the HTF has been on the brink of insolvency many times in the past several years. Instead of addressing the HTF’s long-term solvency problem, Congress has relied on general funds transfers for the past eight years to prop up the fund, including most recently in the FAST Act. Rep. DeFazio (D-OR), ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, spoke passionately in opposition to the resolution. In under 24 hours, over 200 advocates responded to ASCE’s action alert and contacted their representatives in opposition to H. Con. Res. 112. Along with 30 coalition partners, ASCE sent a letter to Congress opposing the resolution. Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR) read extensively from the letter in his remarks on the House floor. As a concurrent resolution, H. Con. Res. 112 will pass over the Senate for debate and vote. It remains to be seen if that body will pick up the measure.  

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Congressional Vote Could Limit Options to #FixTheTrustFund

June 9th, 2016 | By: Laura Hale

Tomorrow the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on H. Con. Res. 112, a concurrent resolution introduced by Rep. Boustany (R-LA) and co-sponsored by 11 Republicans that would express Congress’ opposition to new fees on oil. While non-binding, the resolution would put Congress on the record as opposing one option for fixing the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). For years now the HTF has been spending more than it has been bringing in. It has been propped up with $140 billion in general fund transfers since 2008. Its primary funding source, the motor fuels tax, has not been increased since 1993 and inflation has decreased its value by 40%. Unstable and insufficient federal funding for surface transportation is one the main reasons our infrastructure is in such poor shape. ASCE’s 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave our nation’s roads a D, our bridges a C+ and our transit a D. The U.S. is on track to invest less than half of what is needed in surface transportation over the next decade. This will have a cascading impact on our nation’s economy, impacting productivity, GDP, employment, personal income, international competitiveness, and, most importantly, public safety. Every year this funding gap is not addressed it will cost American families $3,400 – that’s $9 a day because of underperforming infrastructure. The HTF needs a long-term funding solution and in order to get there, all options need to be on the table. H. Con. Res. 112 would eliminate a viable funding alternative and does not offer any strategy to #FixTheTrustFund and repair America’s deteriorating transportation infrastructure. Along with 30 coalition partners, ASCE sent a letter to Congress standing up for infrastructure and opposing H. Con. Res. 112. Want to help #FixTheTrustFund? Tell your congressman to oppose H. Con Res. 112!

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130 Congressmen Ask Colleagues to Fix the Highway Trust Fund

June 3rd, 2016 | By: Laura Hale

Last week 130 Members of Congress (73 Democrats and 57 Republicans) sent a letter to Chairman Brady (R-TX) and Ranking Member Levin (D-MI) of the House Ways & Means Committee urging them to include addressing the long-term solvency of the Federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) in their plans for overhauling the U.S. tax code. They wrote: “The need for improvements to our nation’s infrastructure and safety programs is long overdue. However, the current finances of the HTF make it unable to support those investments…We recognize that tax reform legislation will be a heavy lift. Finding a solution requires ingenuity and will involve building consensus among competing interests and ideas, but we stand ready to work in partnership to reach this critical goal.”  The HTF is supposed to fully fund the federal government’s investments in roads, bridges and transit, but for several years now it has been spending more money than it is taking in. The root of the HTF’s solvency problem lies in its primary funding source: the federal motor fuels tax. The federal motor fuels tax of 18.4 cents per gallon for gas and 24.4 for diesel has not been raised since 1993 and inflation has decreased its real value by 40%. To fill the gap, Congress has been diverting general fund dollars into the HTF since 2008. The FAST Act, the five year surface transportation bill signed in December 2015, included a $70 billion transfer from the general fund to the HTF. Even with the passage of the FAST Act, our nation’s current level of investment in surface transportation is less than half of what’s actually needed. ASCE’s new report shows that the U.S. needs to invest an additional $1.1 trillion in surface transportation over the next ten years (from federal, state, local and private sources). Failing to sufficiently invest in America’s deteriorating infrastructure will have a cascading impact on our nation’s economy, impacting business productivity, GDP, employment, personal income, international competitiveness, and, most importantly, public safety. The report found that if the surface transportation funding gap is not addressed, the U.S. will lose over $1.2 trillion in GDP and 1.1 million jobs by 2025. Over the past 30 years, all increases in the federal motor fuels tax have occurred as a part of larger tax reform packages, Therefore,  Reps. Brady and Levin’s work could offer an opportunity for Congress to finally provide an adequate, sustainable funding source for the HTF. ASCE strongly supports increasing the federal motor fuels tax a sufficient amount at the federal level to stop the need for general fund transfers and allow for increased investment to close the widening gap.  Additionally, ASCE supports the creation of additional pilot programs to test charging motorists based on how much they use roads with the long-term goal of using mileage-based user fees to fund the federal HTF.

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House Transportation Committee Passes Water Resources Bill

May 26th, 2016 | By: Whitford Remer

The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee advanced a $5.5 billion Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) this week. A path forward for H.R. 5303 will require support from the full chamber, a commitment by House leadership to give the bill floor time, and ultimately a compromise with the much more expansive Senate bill that advanced out of the Environment and Public Works Committee several weeks ago. It was expected the House would introduce a much smaller “pamphlet” sized bill that would be limited primarily to Army Corps projects studies and authorizations. The base text of the bill includes 28 Corps project authorizations, but also several policy reforms, including one to continue to improve funding of the nation’s harbors. Currently, ports will collect fees from shippers for harbor maintenance, but those funds first go to the Treasury where Congress has made a habit of using the money for unrelated activities. The WRDA bill would set target levels Congress would have to follow to ensure the funds are used for harbor maintenance. The bill would establish a new pilot program to beneficially use sediment dredged from navigation channels to restore shorelines, beaches, and wetlands. The Senate WRDA bill (S.2848) also included a provision on beneficial use of dredged material (section 2017). During the House WRDA markup 21 amendments were offered, most of which were ultimately withdrawn after Chairman Shuster (R-PA) agreed to work with members to resolve their issues separately. Several amendments did pass including one that would allow wetland mitigation banks for Gulf Coast restoration, a new comprehensive study at the Corps South Atlantic Division and a manager’s amendment that includes a study of nature based solutions for water resources projects. The Senate will likely make the next move and work to get their version of the WRDA bill floor time in late June. Timing on the House side is less clear. There remains significant differences in the two bills, including the major clean water/ drinking water titles in the Senate bill that weren’t included in the House bill. Even if each full chamber passes their respective versions, working details out in conference will likely prove to be challenging.

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