Fostering long-term economic growth and creating American jobs should be the top priorities in the passage of a new, multi-year federal highway and transit investment bill, Caterpillar Inc., Worldwide Product Manager Larry Tate told attendees at a July 14 hearing called by U.S. Department of Transportation to discuss the overdue legislation.
In a panel session “Transportation: Making the Case to the American Public,” the 2010 American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) chairman said it was time to level with the public about the scope of the transportation challenges facing the nation and how much time and money it will take to address them. He outlined a series of transportation-related “truths” during his remarks.
“First and foremost, the nation’s future economic growth, which makes possible our quality of life, is heavily dependent on the state of our transportation infrastructure network,” Tate said. ”If, in the future, we invest in making our network more efficient in moving people — and particularly goods — by adding capacity across all modes, we will be competitive internationally and able to and create and sustain American job growth. If we make the wrong choices, we won’t.”
Another truth, according to Tate, is that by 2050, the American population will grow by an estimated 112 million people, to 420 million, which by itself will tremendously increase demand for all products and commodities and American jobs. A third truth is that freight demand also will double in the next 40 years, from 15 billion tons today to 30 billion tons.
“For the future, we absolutely need to make adding significant new capacity to the nation’s highway system a top federal priority. We need to address the known traffic chokepoints and create regional critical commerce corridors to move goods,” Tate said. ”That is not to say that we don’t also need to add capacity to the other modes. We do, including to our ocean ports and the connections to them. High speed rail could certainly compete with aviation at some point.”
In a fiscally-constrained environment, tough choices will have to be made by elected leaders, the ARTBA chairman said.
“Spreading the peanut butter around won’t cut it,” he said. “The question needs to be ’What investments will give the American people as a whole the biggest return on their investment and help ensure a good quality of life for our grandchildren?’”
Tate lamented the nearly 10-month delay in passage of a new surface transportation bill and its impacts on the construction market. The current highway and transit program law — SAFETEA-LU — expired Sept. 30, 2009. The current law is operating on its fourth short-term extension — the latest one expires Dec. 31, 2010.
“At Caterpillar, we’ve had to lay off more than 20,000 employees over the past two years, in large part, because the domestic construction market has been so bad,” Tate said. “Contractors will not make investments in expensive new equipment if they are uncertain about the availability of future work. And the truth is, federal funding is what drives the state highway and transit construction programs.”
The best thing Congress and the President could do to foster economic growth and job creation is to pass a robust, multi-year reauthorization done right after the election or first thing in 2011, according to Tate.
“Again — tell the American public the truth. There will be a direct correlation between the economy and quality of life we leave our grandchildren and the investment choices the president, this agency and the Congress make in transportation over the next several years. Failure to make the hard choices is not an option,” Tate concluded.