Stopgap transportation bill shows Congress at its worst

This should be the summer of the American people’s discontent — over Congress’ failure to pass a multiyear transportation bill to finance the nation’s growing infrastructure needs.

Every time there’s a debate in Washington over the Highway Trust Fund, the source of federal aid to states for surface transportation projects, officials provide reporters with reams of engineering reports that reveal the condition of the nation’s bridges and highways.

Indeed, President Barack Obama, who has failed to persuade Congress to adopt his $302 billion, four-year transportation program, this week used the recently closed I-495 bridge at the Port of Wilmington, Del., to announce an initiative to boost the flow of private dollars into public-works projects.

Obama could have visited just about any state and found a bridge that is crumbling and in urgent need of replacement.

Last year, the Associated Press analyzed 607,380 bridges featured in the National Bridge Inventory and found that 65,605 were classified “structurally deficient” and 20,808 “fracture critical.” Of those, 7,795 were both — a combination of red flags that experts told the wire service indicate significant disrepair and similar risk of collapse.

Members of Congress are well aware of the statistical data and the reality on the ground. They hear from local and state government officials, who have to face angry constituents when roads are impassable and bridges are either closed or have weight restrictions.

The idea that such infrastructure projects should be financed by state and local governments is laughable, and yet, that argument was put forth during the recent discussion in Washington over the Highway Trust Fund.

The fund is mostly financed by traditional gasoline taxes, which have been decreasing as cars and trucks become more fuel efficient.

As a result, an increase in the gasoline tax remains the most viable solution, but the anti-tax faction in Congress has succeeded in killing any attempt at an increase.

Stopgap measure

Thus, Republican leaders in the House were forced to offer a stopgap measure this week to ensure that the Highway Trust Fund does not run out of money next month. The Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to adopt the House measure next week.

With thousands of construction jobs in jeopardy, the House vote for the temporary fix was an overwhelming 367-55.

No member of Congress wants to return home for the August recess — in an election year — and face angry voters.

But Congress has put a Band-Aid over a deep wound, which is why President Obama withheld his praise for the legislative action.

The nation’s bridges and roads demand a long-term repair or replacement strategy, and that can only occur if there is a guaranteed source of funding.

Members of Congress who will be reaching out to their constituents in the next three months leading up to the Nov. 4 general election must be told in no uncertain terms that there are certain issues that transcend partisan politics. The nation’s infrastructure needs is one of them.

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