Infrastructure Week highlights importance of investing in lasting capital improvements

It’s Infrastructure Week

America’s leading organizations representing the full spectrum of business, labor, and public policy will host Infrastructure Week from May 11-15, 2015.

Now in it’s 3rd year, Infrastructure Week will bring together thousands of stakeholders in Washington and around the country to highlight the critical importance of investing in and modernizing America’s infrastructure systems, and the essential role infrastructure plays in our economy.

The Washington referred to above is that other one, the nation’s capital. But here in the Evergreen State we know about the importance of investing in infrastructure, particularly the critical need for the Legislature to adopt a comprehensive transportation package. 

Robert Puentes, with the Brookings Institution, identifies three steps for coping with your infrastructure problems. They relate directly to some of our challenges.

One, we need to talk about infrastructure in specific rather than abstract terms. Take transportation. Because of thehigh-profile discussion about the need to shore up the federal highway trust fund, we assume that Washington has the largest role in transportation. But in reality, since 2007 the federal share of total spending on roads and public transit is only about 25 percent. States (40 percent) and localities (36 percent) each play a larger role.

We noted the importance of a stable federal role in the Connect section of our research report.

Historically, the federal government has played a significant role in funding maintenance and preservation of state roads and bridges; however, federal funding has become less certain in recent years. The ongoing uncertainty makes planning difficult and further delays vital investment. The federal-state transportation partnership must be made more secure. 

As Transport Topics reports, Congress has yet to approve highway funding authority scheduled to expire at the end of the month. An extension of the Highway Trust Fund is in the works, but not done.

Back to the three steps:

Second, to get around fiscal austerity and political gridlock, we must change the way we fund and finance individual sectors of infrastructure. While a handful of state and metropolitan leaders are finding innovative ways to stretch infrastructure dollars and get projects done, most still struggle with financial, regulatory, political, and institutional hurdles…

Third, we need to change the way we prioritize investments so infrastructure derives from real and actionable economic, social, and environmental goals, and not from the vagaries of local or regional funding for this or that project.

Currently, our state’s comprehensive transportation plan is sidelined while legislators work on the operating budget. Soon, we hope, it will be back on track and approved before lawmakers leave Olympia. We applaud transportation leaders for their diligence in working for a bipartisan compromise that will get Washington moving again.