Biden: It’s “Mind-Blowing” Why Debate Continues Over Infrastructure Investment

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
May 11 2015 |
The Gallery Place Metrorail station in Washington, D.C., is jam-packed with commuters on Monday morning. | Photo by @wowindc via Twitter.

The Veep joins Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to fight for a long-term funding plan.

Talk about setting the scene.

Thousands of Washington, D.C.-area workers encountered a nightmare commute on Monday after the Metrorail system suspended service on three lines during morning rush hour due to an “arcing insulator.” Monday’s headache was just the latest for the subway system, which is facing major funding woes while also dealing with the need to make serious upgrades to repair its aging infrastructure.

Meanwhile, in another part of D.C., Vice President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx were among those touting the need for serious, long-term infrastructure investment to fund mass transit systems like the D.C. metro (along with modernizing roads, bridges, ports, airports, pipelines and railways) at the kickoff event for Infrastructure Week 2015.

And as both noted, we're running out of time.

The Highway Trust Fund, which provides funding for road and bridge projects throughout the country, is set to expire at the end of the month. Foxx even likened the last-minute need to keep the Highway Trust Fund going to Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James’s buzzer beater against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday.

As they did last summer when the fund was set to expire, lawmakers are now looking at a temporary fix to maintain it in the short-term until a more permanent solution is passed.

But both Foxx and Biden sounded the alarm about Congress’s continued reliance on short-term measures, noting that while these actions keep current projects going, they make it nearly impossible for local jurisdictions to plan major infrastructure upgrades.

“These kinds of infrastructure jobs create a virtuous cycle. First of all, they attract and retain business. Secondly — and these are good, middle-class paying jobs, you actually can raise a family on them — it creates and supports millions of jobs." Vice President Joe Biden

Inaction on Capitol Hill is also having a detrimental impact on American competitiveness, Biden noted. Although low energy costs, a skilled workforce, top research universities and strong intellectual property laws have given the United States an edge, the nation also ranks 28th in the world in infrastructure, Biden said. We must modernize our infrastructure to remain competitive on the international stage, he added.

“The idea that there’s actually a debate in Washington, up on Capitol Hill, as to whether or not we need to invest in infrastructure is mind-blowing,” Biden said. “I’ve been here a long, long, time. I understand the need for debate as how to pay for what we need to do. I don’t get the debate about whether or not we need to significantly invest in our infrastructure.”

Biden is right when he argues that lack of action on infrastructure makes the U.S. less competitive. The United States now ranks 15th among our major trading partners for our infrastructure network, and our lagging infrastructure makes it tougher for manufacturers to get goods to market, according to a report from Duke University.

Underinvestment in infrastructure also has cost the country more than 900,000 jobs, including 97,000 jobs in manufacturing alone.

Serious infrastructure investment not only would make America more competitive, it also would create millions of jobs. Roughly 2.5 million jobs would be created by a long-term transportation bill worth $114 billion annually. Every $1 billion in transportation infrastructure investment creates more than 21,000 jobs.

“These kinds of infrastructure jobs create a virtuous cycle," Biden said. "First of all, they attract and retain business. Secondly — and these are good, middle-class paying jobs, you actually can raise a family on them — it creates and supports millions of jobs. And it's not just the job at the construction site. It's the job at the steel mill. It's the job at the asphalt plant… in addition to that, it also creates jobs because these guys and women are able to go out and buy new cars, they're able to go out and stop at the diner, have lunch while they're working on the site."

Infrastructure Week continues through Friday, with events held around the country to draw attention to this vital issue. Advocates also are slated to visit Capitol Hill on Wednesday to push for long-term infrastructure investment.

You can also take part on Twitter using the hashtag #RebuildRenew.