WASHINGTON – Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and 116 state, local, transportation and other groups are urging members of Congress and administration officials to make infrastructure a priority and to take a bipartisan, multi-level governmental approach in any plan to improve it.
They also are calling for the plan to, among other things, fix the Highway Trust Fund, which faces chronic shortages, and strengthen existing tools such as the use of municipal bonds and existing federal grant programs.
Lahood, a senior policy adviser at DLA Piper and co-chair of the bipartisan advocacy group Building America’s Future, made his recommendations in an opinion piece in Newsweek on Wednesday called, “Can Trump Make His Infrastructure Plan a Bipartisan Reality?”
The 116 organizations, called the Infrastructure Working Group, made theirs in a letter sent the same day to Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.
LaHood and the groups are weighing in on the issue as President Trump is expected to soon roll out his infrastructure plan.
The groups include the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Bond Dealers of America, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, and the Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, as well as the American Road & Transportation Builders Association and the American Society of Civil Engineers.
The groups said in their letter that one goal should be to “encourage … active participation among all levels of government and between the public and private sectors without shifting federal responsibilities because no single partner can deliver a well-functioning, national U.S. infrastructure network driven by a long-term vision and funding stability.”
LaHood said, “There needs to be a strong working relationship between all levels of government. Washington must work hand-in-hand with mayors and governors to understand what they need for their communities and to grant them the flexibility to achieve those goals.”
He and the groups also said strong, bipartisan support is needed for an infrastructure plan and that the private sector has a role to play in fixing the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges.
LaHood called for an increase in the federal gax tax. “First, we need a big pot of money and the best way to do that is to modernize the gas tax,” he said, adding, “The last time the 18.4 cent gas tax was raised was in 1993. The cost of everything has increased since 1993.”
Lahood said that while many lawmakers fear the political repercussions of increasing the gas tax, 24 states have raised their gas taxes since 2013 and the re-election rate of the state legislators involved was 91%.
The groups did not mention the federal gas tax but said an infrastructure plan should “fix … chronic challenges and address … reoccurring shortages in key federal infrastructure accounts such as the Highway Trust Fund.”
The plan should increase direct federal investments, in a broad range of infrastructure sectors over 10 years to achieve a $1 trillion investment, they said. This has been what Trump has proposed and is expected to include in the plan, or framework for a plan, this month.
The groups also said the federal permitting process should be made more efficient and accelerated for important infrastructure projects.
LaHood said, “our policies must be forward-looking and the regulations need to keep up with rapidly changing technology such as driverless vehicles.”
He said the federal government needs to invest in “transformational projects like high-speed rail” and should “increase funding for projects that already work and promote innovation through competitive discretionary grants.”
These include the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) supplementary discretionary grant program included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 under then-President Obama and the Urban Partnership Agreements in place during the Bush administration, he said.