Infrastructure Isn’t a Partisan Issue — It’s an American Issue

By Chris Spear & Ian Jefferies

While the past year brought America difficult challenges, the light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter every day, thanks to the endurance and heroism of our frontline workers. When the pandemic first struck, the trucking and freight rail industries didn’t stand down. We rolled up our sleeves and worked together to keep the nation’s supply lines open and the critical goods that households and communities rely on moving. 

Now we’re asking lawmakers to show the same cooperative spirit, cast aside divisions, and forge a path towards sustainable, user-funded infrastructure. 

Although trucking and freight rail are competitors in many ways, we couldn’t be more aligned when it comes to the urgent need to invest in the improvement of our decaying public networks – namely highways and bridges.  Collectively, our industries employ 9 million hard-working people who count on a reliable transportation network to make the deliveries that move our economy.

But decades of lapsing infrastructure investment are now choking the economy’s supply lines, making it costlier and more time-consuming to get goods to market. Deteriorating roads are costing motorists $1,600 annually in wasted gas, lost wages, and vehicle damage. Typical motorists lose 42 hours of their lives every year sitting in traffic, and the trucking industry loses 1.2 billion hours of productivity to congestion on our national highway system. Thirty-seven percent of freight intermodal connectors – those critical roads that link the national highway system to rail terminals, ports, airports, and other intermodal facilities – require significant upgrades.

To truly address these challenges, we need an infrastructure bill with dedicated funding streams, devoid of divisive policy measures. Without budget certainty over a multi-year window, transportation officials cannot move projects from the planning phase to the construction phase. Ground can’t be broken, jobs are frozen, and any progress is bogged down by the annual appropriations cycle. Many policymakers, including the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, have embraced user fees as the most practical and politically viable solution to our infrastructure funding woes. We, along with stakeholders across the ideological spectrum, agree: Those who use – and benefit from –  a system should pay for it.

While the utility of the federal fuel user fee will diminish in the coming years, America needs a bridge to what comes next. Modernizing and indexing the gas tax is a sensible approach as we develop a long-term funding mechanism suitable to an increasingly decarbonized economy. Such a system would be transparent and equitable to ensure all highway users cover their proportional use. In essence, we can “raise it to then kill it” with an equitable, technology-driven solution to carry us over many decades to follow.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has often said we have a “generational opportunity” before us that could benefit everyone.  Indeed, a comprehensive infrastructure package could create economic stimulus and job opportunities, ensure safe and reliable transportation for the nation’s commuters, and foster a cleaner, healthier environment. 

The trucking and railroad industries don’t always see eye to eye, but we are mutually dependent on one another and partners in a supply chain that must stay healthy to keep our economy moving.  The multimodal nature of our supply chain is the glue that binds our economy together, and every time the government makes a decision that affects our industries, the impact is also felt by everyday Americans and the millions of businesses that could not exist without trucks or trains. A well-connected infrastructure network is critical to that partnership. 

We hope lawmakers will come together and approach this challenge the same way. We need them to do their jobs so we can keep doing ours.

*Chris Spear is president and CEO of American Trucking Associations.

*Ian Jefferies is president and CEO of Association of American Railroads.

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