Several years ago my wife, Connie, and I were listening to one of my favorite radio programs, NPR’s Science Friday, and we heard an interview with author Earl Swift, who wrote a book called “The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways.”
Mr. Swift related the story of those trailblazers who in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s created the world’s largest public works project: the U.S. interstate highway system.
That generation built and bequeathed to us a transportation system that was the envy of the world.
They built it, but we haven’t maintained it.
Too many of our roads, bridges and railways have fallen into disrepair. The quality of U.S. infrastructure now ranks just 16th in the world, according to the World Economic Forum. To remain on top of the world’s economy, we need to invest in a world-class infrastructure.
In Ohio, one quarter of our bridges are deemed “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete” by the Federal Highway Administration. Forty-five percent of our state’s major urban highways are congested, costing our drivers $3.6 billion a year in additional repairs and operating costs.
Many of these 6,500 Ohio bridges in need of repair depend on funding from the highway bill to make improvements and upgrades. But the highway bill is set to expire at the end of July, and unless the federal transportation bill is reauthorized, repairs will be delayed and thousands of construction jobs will be at risk.
If we expect to continue our leadership of the global economy, we must invest in a long-term transportation plan — for both highways and transit programs. Countries like Brazil and China are making investments in state-of-the art transportation systems — we can’t allow the U.S. to lag behind.
Transportation bills are traditionally bipartisan, six-year bills with guaranteed funding. That guaranteed funding gives states, cities and public transportation agencies the certainty they need to plan large-scale, long-term projects to repair and expand transportation infrastructure.
But since 2009, Congress has done the opposite of providing certainty — passing 12 short-term extensions.
A long-term transportation bill is an opportunity to create jobs, and bolster our manufacturing industry. Companies like ArcelorMittal, AK Steel, and Nucor are making steel in Ohio that can build and rebuild our bridges.
The clock is ticking — the Senate needs to commit to rebuilding our infrastructure across the board and reauthorize the highway bill. If we expect to remain the world’s No. 1 economy, we need to follow the example of our parents and grandparents, and invest in roads, bridges, and railways that will once again be the envy of the globe.
Sherrod Brown is a Democratic U.S. senator representing Ohio.