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Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx wants Americans to “get a little noisier” and demand Congress pass a long-term investment plan to rebuild the nation’s transportation infrastructure — preferably before the current Congressional session ends.

Foxx has been outspoken in recent weeks about the need for Congress to get serious about rebuilding America’s infrastructure. Eleven former transportation secretaries also have offered their support, writing in a letter to Congress that “we need a much larger and longer-term investment.

But Foxx took his case directly to the American people during a virtual town hall meeting on Wednesday, telling viewers that Americans “can’t have the quality of life that we’ve enjoyed for so long” if funding levels for infrastructure remain unchanged.

“I can’t stress enough how important this is and how important the urgency is to America’s transportation system,” Foxx said. “We can't do incremental surgery here. We really need to do something substantial."

The Highway Trust Fund, from which states draw money to help complete infrastructure projects, is now slated to be funded through May 2015. Foxx noted that Congress has now passed short-term plans to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent 28 times in row (the most recent being last week).

But a continued reliance on such stop-gap measures has had a damaging impact. Not only has Congress avoided doing anything about the long-term projects that are needed, a lack of guaranteed funding also has slowed down many state and local infrastructure projects that are already underway. As Foxx put it:

Congress literally, I joke, has looked under every mattress, they’ve looked under the kids’ car seats for nickels and dimes to keep the Highway Trust Fund stabilized. … We have a moment where Republicans and Democrats -- if the American people are speaking up -- can forge an alliance to get us unstuck.

Foxx wants Americans to contact or meet with their Members of Congress during the current Congressional recess to demand lawmakers pass a long-term infrastructure investment plan. And Foxx noted Americans don’t need to know the wonky details of government spending to put forth their case — they might just need to look out their front window.

“The more local we can make this case, the projects that are in your back yard … those projects are the ones that are going to get the attention of Congress,” he said. “When we talk about this as an abstraction it is a much easier thing to punt to the future.”

Finding those local examples is sadly easy. Here at the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM), we know that more than 70,000 bridges are considered structurally deficient. Our roads need repair, our ports are outdated, our water systems are bursting and our railways need updating.

But this isn’t just a case of improving things; it’s also a great investment. Every $1 billion spent on infrastructure creates around 20,000 jobs.

And as Foxx noted on Wednesday, improved infrastructure also will support American manufacturing. Many manufacturers want to open facilities in rural communities, but improved infrastructure is needed to support their activities, Foxx said.

“We have opportunities now to restore our manufacturing base here as a country, but that opportunity is only going to be as good as our ability to move thing around,” he said.

Foxx cautioned that improving infrastructure is “not an either/or thing.”

For example, many of our nation’s ports must be deepened in order to accommodate the bigger ships that will soon travel through the remodeled Panama Canal. But if we invest to deepen the ports — and fail to improve the nearby roads and bridges that will allow the ships’ cargo to travel on land to its final destination — we will continue to face difficulties.

“We’ve got to have it all and we’ve got to figure out a way to make sure it’s all integrated,” Foxx said. “We’ve got a lot to do as a country, and that’s why I keep making the point that Americans are going to need to speak up.”

Click here to tell policymakers in Washington to pass a long-term transportation infrastructure investment plan.