Democrats Push for More Infrastructure Funding

Democrats Push for More Infrastructure Funding
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Democratic lawmakers from Virginia and Washington, D.C., along with three federal officials, on Monday highlighted a deteriorating bridge that connects the two jurisdictions as part of push for a long-term fix to the Highway Trust Fund. The press conference was held during the midday heat at the Arlington Memorial Bridge, but the location was a stand-in for all of the nation’s aging roads and bridges.

Taking part were Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx (pictured), Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, Sen. Tim Kaine, Rep. Don Beyer, and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s non-voting representative in Congress.

In May, officials closed a lane of the bridge after Federal Highway Administration engineers discovered corroded steel beams beneath it. The National Park Service announced the closing of a second lane last week.

Constructed in 1932, the span provides an essential route across the Potomac River for commuters traveling between the nation’s capital and points west. On any given workday, nearly 68,000 vehicles cross the bridge, and the lane closures, which are expected to last until at least the end of 2015, are worsening the region’s notoriously hectic rush hour.

Because the bridge is a federal asset, Jewell said, it needs monetary support from the federal government, but is excluded from the state allocations in the Highway Trust Fund.

The Democratic lawmakers and administration officials came together Monday to assert a “critical need for Congress to act on infrastructure improvements,” according to the press release.

“The current system is as broken as the bridge behind me,” Beyer said, lamenting “failed” leadership in Congress. Kaine said mayors and governors are “knocking on [Congress’] door” to demand more investments.

Norton on Monday introduced the Save Our National Parks Transportation Act, which would authorize $460 million annually to the NPS through fiscal year 2021 to fund various federal projects.

“The bill … authorizes funding for the most neglected portion of America’s outworn infrastructure – the priceless federal bridges and major transportation roads that are not a part of any state’s allocation,” Norton said. “None is more historic or in worse shape than the Arlington Memorial Bridge, which has been protected on the National Park Service Register since 1980, but has been falling apart in plain sight for years.”

A full repair of the bridge, which connects the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, has an estimated price tag of $250 million, which is roughly how much is allocated to the park service each year. The NPS has said it needs about $5 billion to fix countless roads and bridges in parks across the country.

“Our infrastructure is deteriorating piece by piece,” Foxx said. “Enough of this lack of investment and under-investment.”

According to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, there are more than 60,000 structurally deficient bridges throughout the country.

Jarvis called on Congress to “step up,” citing the federal government’s “responsibility” to maintain the Arlington span.

But “stepping up” is not as easy as it sounds. House and Senate Democrats have no indication that their Republican colleagues will be on board with their plan for more infrastructure spending.

A Democratic aide told RealClearPolitics that most Democrats support tax reform to get money for the Highway Trust Fund, adding that Republicans have not proposed anything that would attract support from those across the aisle.

Beyer told RCP in an interview that Republican Rep. Bill Shuster, who chairs the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, wants to find a solution. Beyer supports a bill proposed by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) that would increase the gas and diesel tax by 5 cents per gallon each of the next three years and also adjust the rate for inflation in order to finance the highway fund.

Beyer doesn’t see Republicans backing such a plan, which would generate $210 billion over 10 years. He instead suggested they would be more likely to embrace a funding plan tied to corporate tax reform, which has proven to be especially difficult to accomplish in recent years. Beyer acknowledged that stumbling block: “I think Democrats would be for that too, but it’s just harder to get there.”

Before their Memorial Day recess, Congress passed a two-month extension of the trust fund, which was set to run out of money on May 31. Sen. Bob Corker criticized his own party for failing to find a long-term solution, accusing fellow Republicans of “kicking the can down the road.”

Norton took the same tone in blasting Republicans, saying they are “unaware” that state allotments under the Highway Trust Fund would not put any money toward repairs for the Arlington bridge, which operates exclusively with federal funding. “They haven’t focused on their state allocations, so you know they haven’t focused on the federal allocation,” she told RCP in an interview.

There will be no progress on repairing the bridge, Norton said, until residents and commuters from the District, Maryland and Virginia express their outrage toward members of Congress over the current situation.

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