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The spike in coronavirus cases this summer and the accompanying economic whiplash from new shutdown orders pose serious roadblocks to America’s long-term recovery.
As President Donald Trump and members of Congress explore the next round of COVID-19 relief, one obvious bipartisan solution is staring them in the face: Passage of a new multi-year transportation bill.
Federal transportation dollars on average support nearly 50 percent of Maine’s annual highway and bridge capital expenditures. There are few initiatives that can match the combination of immediate and long-term benefits of increased infrastructure investment. And the need is there.
According to Federal Highway Administration data, more than 230,000 U.S. bridges need repair, including more than 46,000 that are structurally deficient and require immediate attention.
In Maine, roughly 2,500 bridges are structurally deficient. That ranks seventh in the country in the number of structurally deficient bridges needing repair — at an estimated cost of almost $176 million.
Transportation construction and maintenance work has major positive economic impacts. In 2019, it generated $610 billion in related business activity across all sectors of the economy.
More than 63 million American jobs in manufacturing, transportation and warehousing, tourism, agriculture and forestry, general construction, mining, retailing and wholesaling depend on continuing the work done by the U.S. transportation and construction industry.
In 2018, $124 million in federal funds helped Maine to complete nearly 200 highway projects in the state, including a stretch of Interstate 95 in Aroostook County, from Sherman to Medway; and in Washington County on Route 9 from T24 MD to Westley.
The current federal FAST Act transportation law expires Sept. 30. More uncertainty about funding to the states or short-term program extensions would be adding further economic insult to injury.
The U.S. House of Representatives recently approved a five-year highway and public transit investment bill. Now we hope that the full U.S. Senate will act. The Senate version was unanimously approved by the Environment and Public Works Committee in July 2019, but has languished in legislative purgatory ever since.
Politics is the art of the possible. Trump and congressional leaders from both parties have been talking about the need to improve our infrastructure since the 2016 elections.
Sen. Susan Collins has been instrumental in garnering discretionary funds for Maine’s highways and bridges, ports and airports, and every possible transportation mode, including recent funding for the Madawaska/Edmundston International Bridge and border crossing. We are grateful that she has led this effort and are also grateful to the rest of our congressional delegation for supporting transportation projects.
The reauthorization is needed for the long-term health of our transportation system, so to that end, we hope that both Collins and Sen. Angus King can help shape an outcome that benefits Maine’s motorists and businesses.
We urge senators to work with their Senate leaders to pass this critical legislation as they return to the nation’s capital. A five-year transportation investment package is one of the smartest policy solutions to jumpstart the nation’s long-term economic recovery. Let’s get it done.
Brian Bouchard is the president and CEO of H.O. Bouchard Inc. in Hampden.