BlueGreen Alliance | WONK WEDNESDAY: Let’s Go Big on American Transportation

WONK WEDNESDAY: Let’s Go Big on American Transportation

Our country deserves world-class transportation options, and such investment will pay dividends in jobs, access to opportunity, economic growth, and savings of time to be with our loved ones. We need an infrastructure bill that will match the scope of our aspirations and needs as a country, so that we will not continue to fall behind. We can choose to build top-flight transportation systems, and the AJP is a strong blueprint to do so.

June 9, 2021

The following post is authored by Peter La Fountain, BlueGreen Alliance Policy Advisor. 

We are at a pivotal moment for transportation in this country. Congress is currently taking up the needed renewal of the federal surface transportation authorization, a five-year blueprint to support our country’s basic transportation needs. This bill can serve as a first step in our national infrastructure conversation, and a start on the goals of President Biden’s American Jobs Plan—but lawmakers need to shift into the fast lane. Earlier this year, the BlueGreen Alliance called on Congress to continue the work of fundamentally expanding, improving, and reshaping how our transportation systems serve all Americans.

Today, we have the opportunity to act at the transformational scale required to both address current needs and implement solutions that will better support our transportation future. Doing so will take vision and a commitment to realizing the benefits of upgrading transportation networks in American society. We need to both support our country’s workforce and reinforce the urgency of addressing the climate crisis, all while creating better reliability and efficiency for our daily commutes and numerous other transportation needs.

Transportation systems undergird our country and our economy. As Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg recently said, infrastructure “is the foundation that makes it possible for us to live a life of our choosing.” This includes seeking work opportunities, visiting family, or pursuing happiness in our own ways. We need to build systems of mobility that will better serve all Americans, while creating good-paying jobs in construction, manufacturing, operations, and other services—sectors that will be at the heart of our economic recovery.

Updating our transportation networks is also key to our fight against climate change. As of 2019, transportation in the United States accounts for more emissions than any other economic sector. We need to act now to cut transportation pollution by spurring the adoption of cleaner vehicles, but we must also do more through the smart investment in clean transportation networks and better travel options for Americans.

Economically, we know that transportation investment affirmatively creates jobs and supports regional economic growth. A case study from New Jersey found an average $7 billion annual increase in economic impact (over ten years) as a result of a $1.65 billion increase in annual transportation spending. An analysis in Kansas found that a sustained increase in investment in bridges and highways would more than double its return in economic output.

Meanwhile, transit systems play a key role in a complementary suite of modes and investments that serve our travel needs. Transit works. Transit provides important pollution reduction benefits – both reducing carbon emissions and local pollution, while also providing critical transportation services for working people. Multimodal commutes, including active transportation like walking and biking, can further reduce emissions and provide public health benefits by reducing pollution in busy areas.

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) states that the long-term economic impact of increased transit investment would result in a $5 billion return in total economic benefit for every additional $1 billion in funding—noting that business productivity “would increase from access to broader labor markets with more diverse skills, enabled by expanded public transit service areas and reduced traffic congestion.”

When we invest in our transportation networks, we are also creating jobs in U.S. manufacturing. Rolling stock and automobiles—along with their components and subcomponents—are built at facilities across the country, supporting transit systems and passenger rail networks, as well as the manufacture of clean vehicles.

The American Jobs Plan (AJP) from President Biden is in lockstep with the BlueGreen Alliance’s transportation infrastructure goals. The plan represents a serious, wholesale commitment to the next generation of transportation investment that will produce economic growth, create jobs, spur public health benefits, and mitigate climate change.

For EV charging infrastructure, the AJP sets out a goal of investing $15 billion to install 500,000 charging stations nationwide, a transformational acceleration in deployment of a range of chargers in apartment buildings, public parking, and throughout communities, as well as reliable fast charging along our nation’s highways. This will allow for greater EV adoption by helping to eliminate “range anxiety,” and ensure access to charging to all communities. Under the president’s vision, the great American road trip—along with daily errands and commutes—can be electrified. Such charging equipment should be built here in the United States, and we should promote training standards such as the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program (EVITP) to ensure we are supporting a skilled workforce to install and service charging infrastructure.

The AJP also sees a vision for transit and rail that extends beyond the immediate recovery needs of the pandemic. Transit system operations took a huge hit during the crisis, providing service for essential workers even while ridership and farebox recovery had plummeted. Past bills supported transit systems during this emergency, and future legislation should help these systems thrive into the future. The AJP prioritizes $85 billion to modernize transit agencies and help them meet changing demand. Importantly, the AJP also commits funds to speed fleet conversion of transit buses and school buses to clean propulsion technology, which will help commuters and the nation’s schoolchildren ride to work and school with cleaner air. Done right, the proposed new “Clean Buses for Kids Program” can sustain the manufacture and operation of clean school buses right here in the United States.

The AJP makes a commitment of $80 billion to rail improvements specifically. These funds will support Amtrak expansion, for both the national network (which serves cities and small towns across the U.S.) and the busy Northeast Corridor (NEC). Such funds can support major projects such as the Gateway tunnels under the Hudson River, a cinch point in our national rail infrastructure that has carried even greater urgency since Hurricane Sandy. This funding will also support better rail safety, efficiency, and electrification across the country. With proper investment, rail can continue to be a key part of the solution for our travel options.

We also have an opportunity to lead by example by reducing emissions from the nation’s federal fleets, including delivery vehicles for the United States Postal Service (USPS). As the USPS replaces its iconic 30-year old Long Life Vehicles (LLVs), care should be taken to fund cleaner technology whenever possible. These vehicles often operate on fixed routes with easy access to charging, and the benefits of lower emissions for communities and postal workers can be significant. The AJP has committed to using procurement policy to increase the number of clean vehicles in the federal fleet, and Congress can further support this goal in legislation by providing funds for fleet conversion to the USPS, while acknowledging its status as an independent agency.

In addition, the AJP commits to a host of actions to help ensure we build the infrastructure and vehicles materials and technology of the future right here in the United States. By supporting Buy America and related labor standards, we are creating and sustaining U.S. jobs in transportation manufacturing—building products here at home that will help move Americans in cities, suburbs, and rural areas across the country. Buy America provisions ensure that infrastructure and other public investments support American jobs throughout the transportation supply chain. Such domestic content requirements have a long-standing history of creating quality, family-sustaining jobs while maximizing investments in the American economy.

Getting these standards right is important, because the way that infrastructure investments are made can significantly influence how they impact communities and the quality of jobs created for workers. We can ensure that investments in infrastructure are maximized in our economy and that communities and workers have a voice in the process—by using prevailing wage provisions, local hire requirements, project labor agreements, community benefit agreements, and other methods. Through the AJP and related executive actions, the Biden Administration is making a commitment to Buy America and other domestic manufacturing and labor standards, making sure that taxpayer dollars used to build the next generation of transportation technology are invested in ways that build good union jobs, spur domestic manufacturing, and strengthen communities.

As we move toward lower emissions technologies, we need to ensure that we do not leave people behind. As part of our requests, we believe that EV charging and other investments should be accessible to and shaped by all Americans, and that incentives to speed adoption should reflect that priority. We also believe that safety, service, environmental, labor, and other standards must be maintained and improved in the development of autonomous vehicles and other innovative technology. Access to transportation is a right and a key component of economic uplift, and we should not allow technological leaps to further exacerbate the stratification of access to mobility and opportunity in our country.

Congress should think big when it comes to transportation. America has languished for too long on transportation networks that could be far more reliable, accessible, clean, and efficient. Our country deserves world-class transportation options, and such investment will pay dividends in jobs, access to opportunity, economic growth, and savings of time to be with our loved ones. We need an infrastructure bill that will match the scope of our aspirations and needs as a country, so that we will not continue to fall behind. We can choose to build top-flight transportation systems, and the AJP is a strong blueprint to do so.

Let’s get this country moving again after the pandemic. We’re ready to go.