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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 5/14/15

Congress Has to Get Serious About Railroads and Infrastructure

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The Senate has not gotten around to acting on Amtrak reauthorization. The awful news from Philadelphia, involving a rail line many members of Congress and Washington insiders ride, is likely to bring action. But simple reauthorization is not the answer. The House measure is ill-conceived and insufficient.

Connecticut Senator Murphy has been arguing that "The existing (Northeast Corridor) needs upwards of $50 billion in investment over the next 20 years just to keep up with projected demand."

That is just the beginning of the investment that is required for the renewal of rail -- and the broader infrastructure of the United States.

Safety concerns can and should motivate investment. But so, too, should concerns for job creation and economic development.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has made the case for a broader commitment to infrastructure central to his advocacy for a progressive agenda.

Reflecting on crowded mass transit, traffic jams and related issues in a Wednesday New York Times opinion piece, de Blasio, one of the nation's most prominent Democrats, and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, a Republican, wrote:

"Federal investment has not kept pace with this demand, resulting in an outdated, overburdened surface transportation system that is ill equipped to handle current, let alone future, need. Spending on infrastructure in the United States has sunk to 1.7 percent of gross domestic product, a 20-year low.

"The Department of Transportation estimates that by 2030, it will cost $84 billion to $105 billion a year just to keep the highway, bridge and transit systems in good repair, and up to $170 billion a year to improve conditions and performance.

"Meanwhile, the rest of the world races ahead. Europe spends 5 percent of G.D.P. on infrastructure, and China 9 percent. Global cities like London and Beijing are investing in transit and rail projects on a vast scale, while in New York City, more than 160 bridges were built over a century ago, and large portions of our subway's signal system are more than 50 years old. Some of the subway cars we ride in were built before 1975.

"This isn't for want of local resources. Over the past decade, New York City has increased commitments to capital projects by 50 percent. But we could not do it all on the local level even if we wanted to."

That's a wise assessment. And it ought to be taken seriously by a Congress that has neglected infrastructure for too long. The Laborers's International Union of North America sums the problem up well when it says, "Our nation's infrastructure is failing us and so is Congress by not fixing it."

Copyright - 2014 thenation.com -- distributed by Agence Global

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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