Transportation infrastructure investment was one issue that didn't get much traction in this year's political campaign, yet there are few, if any, issues that are more critical to our nation's competitiveness and quality of life.
In short, our surface transportation system is showing its age and has become clogged with rising volumes of vehicles, goods and people. To become more efficient, create jobs and get our economy moving again, we need to expand the capacity of our highways and public transportation systems and modernize existing infrastructure that has fallen into disrepair.
We're already feeling the effects of a substandard transportation system. Our economy sheds $78 billion annually in lost time and fuel caused by congestion. America's leadership in the global economy is threatened by clogged border gateways. The Detroit-Windsor border crossing is the busiest point along our northern border, accounting for $I22 billion of our nation's $489 billion annual trade with Canada. But unless a new bridge is built, congestion at this vital crossing could cost as many as 150,000 future and existing jobs in the region by 2035.
Road safety is also an issue. Of the 42,000 deaths each year on the nation's highways (nearly 1,300 in Michigan), some 15,000 of them are caused by substandard road conditions, obsolete designs or roadside hazards.
Our elected representatives in Washington, DC, who have put transportation funding at the bottom of their policy agendas, won't have that luxury in 2009. That's because the federal highway and transit funding legislation--formally known as The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU)--expires on September 30, 2009. This debate is a valuable opportunity for the business community to help shape the federal government's surface transportation strategy for decades to come.
First, we need to increase federal highway trust fund dollars. We know for certain that current revenues flowing into the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) will be insufficient to continue programs at their current levels past September 30, 2009. This pool of money, which is funded by an 18-cent per gallon gasoline tax, has shrunk because people are driving less and driving more efficient vehicles. In September, Congress had to take emergency action to transfer $8 billion from the Federal Treasury into the Highway Trust Fund to...