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Time for return to bipartisan transportation policy EDITORIAL

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An Amtrak train rolls through Trenton Transit Center.
An Amtrak train rolls through Trenton Transit Center. - ()

More than even Bruce Springsteen, what most unites New Jersey? A hint – it’s the opposite of “Born to Run.” Simply stated, we all hate our commutes. And to make matters worse, it isn’t better anywhere else for most Americans.

In fact, a recent Monmouth University poll examined what Americans think about the nation’s infrastructure and the results are not surprising. Most say that Washington is not paying enough attention to the nation’s roads, rails, bridges and tunnels.

Anyone who drives or takes a train knows that’s true. What’s more, the experts agree. The last two report cards from the American Society of Civil Engineers graded the U.S. infrastructure as a D+. U.S. infrastructure performance suffers from its comparatively low quality, with consequences for businesses, workers, and travelers. Average commuting time in the U.S., at 48 minutes per day, is well above that of our peers due to congestion and poor public transit, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Monmouth poll digs deeper to better explain why the U.S. is falling behind developed and even less-developed nations, at least as the commuting public sees it. According to Monmouth, 62 percent say the federal government is not spending enough on transportation infrastructure projects in their local area. Only slightly fewer respondents had good things to say about their state governments, with 57 percent saying that they are not spending enough on local road and bridge projects.

Keep in mind, President Trump promised a massive infrastructure spending bill that seems an empty promise now that he’s nearly 18 months into his term with nothing to show for. The American public gets it. 

“Despite the fact that the White House has declared an ‘Infrastructure Week’ many times over the past year, the American public sees very little concrete evidence that this is a priority,” says Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth Polling Institute.

Kudos to the Monmouth Poll for exploring this issue. Hopefully, it will become an annual event for us to chart progress nationally. I believe most of our congressional delegation would agree. But that’s pretty much it for any good news. Congress will remain deadlocked. The President won’t push the issue and Americans are left frustrated.

So, is it going to be any better for those of us in New Jersey? Our most important project — Gateway — has received some funding to move forward over the objections of the President. Fortunately, our Congressional delegation led by Sens. Menendez and Booker and virtually all our members of the House have pushed hard to get any funding at all. 

Transportation funding was once a bipartisan issue. Republican President Dwight Eisenhower famously initiated the interstate highway system. Both parties worked together in Congress to ensure roads were expanded, bridges were improved and rails were maintained. Today, New Jersey is one of the few states were together Democrats and Republicans fight for their constituents when it comes to our infrastructure.

We need their leadership more than ever. That will be even harder with Rep. Rodney Freylinghuysen’s retirement, meaning New Jersey loses an important committee chairman. But our members must assert themselves to try to recreate bipartisanship on infrastructure matters. It’s been said there isn’t a Democratic or Republican way to snow plow. There’s just the right way. 

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, in 2016 the U.S. ranked 10th in the world in a broad measure of infrastructure quality—down from fifth in 2002. Clearly, Congress right now isn’t doing it the right way.

We need our New Jersey delegation to define the right way to their colleagues. It’s safe to say we won’t be “Racing in the Street” until this happens.

 

Greg Lalevee is chairman of the Engineers Labor-Employer Cooperative and vice chairman of the Transportation Trust Fund Authority.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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