Highway spending slowed by gridlock in Congress

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks in front of the Key Bridge along the Georgetown Waterfront Park July 1, 2014 in Washington, DC. Obama called on Congress to close tax loopholes and use the money to pay for infrastructure projects. 

As the House prepares to vote on a temporary measure to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent, the Obama Administration is touting the economic benefits of infrastructure investment.

Paying for roads and bridges is something President Obama is pushing all week. But sometimes, the local road to funding is faster.

Former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood says states are the ones moving boldly to pay for fixes. He points to places like Wyoming, which hiked its gas tax last year.

“The states are not waiting around for the federal government, because the federal government isn’t doing anything,” he says.

“We see this at the ballot box,” says Robert Puentes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. He says in the last couple years, “about 70 percent of the votes to increase investment on the state and local level passed.”

Puentes says, when it comes to transportation infrastructure, part of the difficulty in Congress is that the federal role isn’t as defined as it was, for example, during the interstate highway era.

“We had a program that was designed to build the interstates, to connect metropolitan areas, to get farmers out of the mud,” he says. “There was a clear understanding of the purpose of the program, there were clear economic connections.”

Without that clarity, he says it may be difficult to get sustained federal investment in the nation’s infrastructure.

 

 

About the author

Kate Davidson is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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