Sen. Fischer and Sec. Foxx in Lincoln Journal Star: Working together to improve our nation’s transportation

August 11, 2015

Whether traversing through deep-water ports, over winding railroads or in the back of a long-haul truck, consumer products travel across the world before reaching the shelves of local markets in Lincoln and throughout Nebraska. Transportation fuels our economy.

However, to compete with our global trading partners, our transportation system needs to remain in top condition. According to the World Bank, the United States ranks ninth in logistics and infrastructure performance, behind many of our strongest economic allies such as Germany and Singapore. In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America’s infrastructure a grade of D+, with our roads receiving a grade of D and our bridges a C+.

Investing in our transportation infrastructure is vital to our nation’s economic health and global competitiveness. By doing so, we will strengthen safety and commerce, and, in the process, create good, well-paying jobs for hardworking people in Nebraska and elsewhere. After all, nearly 12 million Americans work in transportation-related jobs.

America also needs a long-term infrastructure strategy. The federal government must provide state and local policymakers with the right tools to maintain and update our infrastructure or build new projects. Unfortunately, Congress has relied on 34 short-term extensions since 2009, disrupting major infrastructure projects and causing stress for road builders, local officials and the traveling public. We can and should do better.

Last month, the Senate took an initial step forward towards addressing our nation’s transportation challenges by passing a multiyear surface bill. In the months ahead, Congress must work to pass a long-term bill to provide states and localities with certainty and more options to move important projects forward.

At the same time, we must continue to ease the coordination between the U.S. Department of Transportation and states, ensuring projects get up and running at a faster pace. In a great example of collaboration, Nebraska’s Department of Roads recently underwent a comprehensive, yearlong negotiation with the Federal Highway Administration to establish best practices for the project approval process. The agreement will allow Nebraska to initiate maintenance and rehabilitation projects more easily along the nearly 100,000 miles of roads and 15,500 bridges that cross the state.

Nebraska’s DOR will now have authority over approval for certain aspects of highway project development. As a result of FHWA and NDOR’s hard work and cooperation, Nebraska’s infrastructure projects will move forward with more clarity from the outset, creating more reliable timelines and reducing costly delays.

When it comes to maintaining competitiveness with our global trading partners, a robust freight policy is key. Dedicated freight networks will prioritize the movement of goods and inputs across our nation, increase safety, and bolster manufacturing hubs in places like Lincoln. By producing a strong multimodal freight plan -- one that facilitates the flow of goods between rail, water ports, trucking hubs, air cargo centers and highways -- we will enhance our transportation network and create economic growth.

We cannot stop there. We also need to emphasize the importance of rural manufacturing hubs and the vast miles of roads that connect major metropolitan trading centers. According to a recent report by the Brookings Institution, nearly 77 percent of our nation’s freight (totaling $15.2 trillion per year) moves between different states in the U.S. More than $165 billion worth of freight travels through Nebraska each year.

America’s transportation network is the framework upon which our nation’s economic system rests. With a long-term infrastructure strategy, proper coordination at all levels of government and a robust freight policy, we can address our nation’s transportation challenges head on, while strengthening safety on our roads and boosting productivity.

Together, we can work to ensure that America’s infrastructure continues to facilitate robust trade and grow our economy.

U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) is a member of the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. She serves as chairman of the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security. Anthony Foxx is the U.S. secretary of transportation, serving since 2013.