Opinion: Building a recovery: Americans vote for transportation investment

  by Peter Varga

Members of Congress have little time left to convince their constituents to send them back for another term. If they're looking to curry voters' favor, they should heed the results of a new poll conducted by the Mineta Transportation Institute.

More than two-thirds of Americans tell Mineta that they'd like the federal government to increase investment in public transportation.

Despite this support, lawmakers have not increased revenues for our surface transportation needs since 1993.  Lawmakers passed a stopgap measure that restored $10.8 billion to the Highway Trust Fund and Mass Transit Account in July. This will only keep the fund afloat through May of next year.

It's time for Congress to respond to the public's support by committing to long-term funding for infrastructure improvements. Such investment is sorely needed not just to guarantee the safety of our nation's aging roads, bridges, and public transportation but to catalyze economic growth and create jobs.

The American economy relies on safe, efficient infrastructure to get workers to and from their jobs. 

In its 2012 "Urban Mobility Report," the Texas A&M Transportation Institute found that in 2011, traffic congestion cost $121 billion in delay and fuel costs. With-

out public transit, this figure would’ve increased an additional $20.8 billion. 

Now, if the proper public transit investments aren't made, congestion costs could reach nearly $200 billion by the end of the decade.  

A nationwide effort to rebuild our infrastructure wouldn't just make America safer -- it would also benefit the economy.  

Investments in infrastructure would create precisely the kinds of good-paying middle-class jobs the economy needs. One study from the Brookings Institution found that, compared to all other occupations, infrastructure-related jobs pay Americans who are at the lower end of the income scale over 30 percent more. 

America's public transportation system stands out as a perfect example of how infrastructure investment fuels job growth. This $57-billion industry employs about 400,000 people. Every billion dollars that federal, state, and local governments spend on public transit creates more than 50,700 jobs -- 22,000 directly and an additional 28,900 indirectly -- by enhancing productivity across the rest of the economy. 

A strong public transportation infrastructure also helps drive economic growth in our communities. Every dollar invested in a public transit project generates four times that amount in local economic activity.

Public transportation investment provides increased productivity in two areas. First, the savings that accrue to households, from reduced congestion and less reliance on automobile use. Second, the savings to businesses, by improving employers' access to the labor market with more efficient commutes for its current and potential employees, along with reducing congestion costs and logistics, contribute an additional $10.1 billion to the U.S. economy.

Infrastructure investments would also strengthen the economy by making our transportation system more efficient. The Texas A&M Transportation Institute estimates that 2.9 billion gallons of fuel are wasted each year because of congested roads. All the time and fuel wasted sitting in traffic costs the country $101 billion a year. In 2010, lack of investment in public transit systems deprived the economy of another $90 billion.

The American public wants Congress to invest in our public transportation system. Our aging system needs to be maintained and expanded if it is to serve our fast growing population. Rebuilding our nation's infrastruc-

ture will make us safer, grow the economy, and create jobs.


Peter Varga is CEO of The Rapid and former Chair of the American Public Transporta-

tion Association.

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