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Long Island Contractors' Association

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Yarossi: Look at ROI on infrastructure $$

by PAUL YAROSSI
February 8, 2012

Photo credit: iStock.com Photo
Paul Yarossi is chairman of the American Roads and Transportation Builders Association and president of HNTB Holdings.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, 37.3 percent of New York's 17,372 bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, while 24 percent of our roadways need major repair or replacement. The situation is similar across the country -- yet the nationwide debate over jobs and funding drags on.

Our transportation inventory is aging, and the country needs to be more resilient against natural and man-made disasters. We know globalization is driving a need for better intermodal connections to encourage trade -- that our economy is challenged and job creation is paramount -- and we must meet these demands or fall behind.

The House of Representatives is expected to take action next week on a five-year bill that provides $260 billion for surface transportation programs. The year-on-year annual investment for highways in this proposal is less than the $41 billion approved by the Congress in 2010 and 2011. By comparison, the Senate will soon be considering a two-year bill that would provide $109 billion for the highway and transit programs, and maintain the $41 billion figure for highways.

As the legislative process continues to play out, members of the House and Senate should continue to explore ways to boost investment and prevent job loss. Activity by the House and Senate to move a transportation bill forward is encouraging, but that movement is tempered by appropriation activities that reduce last year's funding to states by $2 billion, putting 50,000 to 70,000 jobs in jeopardy.

Congress needs to think more about infrastructure's return on investment, or ROI.

Meeting the nation's infrastructure needs is vital to interstate commerce, safety, security and global competitiveness. Our best-regarded presidents supported infrastructure and fully understood its ROI. From George Washington's survey for the first proposed national road from Maryland to Indiana to Thomas Jefferson's efforts to develop the nation's early canals to Abraham Lincoln's support of the transcontinental railroad, our greatest political leaders understood that a strong infrastructure promotes a more nimble military, creates jobs, sparks the economy and advances America's competitiveness.

Contemporary presidents were also infrastructure proponents. President Dwight Eisenhower signed legislation enabling the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, the origin of today's U.S. interstate highway system. President Ronald Reagan signed the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982, and both he and President Bill Clinton increased the gas tax as part of the Highway Trust Fund. All three presidents saw the need to fund transportation, and their administrations moved the economy in a positive direction.

Congress now has the opportunity to move our transportation infrastructure program forward with a new, multimodal transportation plan for highways, rail, air and water.

Healthy infrastructure supports a healthy economy, attracting new employers and improving the overall quality of life in our communities. We consistently see paybacks along our roads, rails and bridges. These dividends -- safe, secure, efficient transportation -- pay us back in our day-to-day lives well in excess of every dollar we invest. Moody's estimates every additional dollar spent on infrastructure generates a $1.44 increase in gross domestic product.

For these reasons alone, the transportation industry should not accept fewer federal dollars, and the American public should not accept further deterioration of the infrastructure they rely on. People are willing to pay when they know what they will get in return. In fact, more than 70 percent of local infrastructure funding has passed in the last five years.

In an era of limited resources, the demand for true infrastructure investment remains high. It's time to bring all forms of funding, financing and technology-based tools to the table. We need to keep moving forward, working diligently to keep America safe, mobile and economically competitive.



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