As Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces during World War II, President Dwight D. Eisenhower understood how transportation could be a vehicle for communication, economic growth, and military superiority. He saw “the wisdom of broader ribbons across the land.”
So, in 1956, President Eisenhower and Congress passed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, creating what is now the interstate highway system. This act remains one of the single greatest economic development projects in the history of our country. But unfortunately, we haven’t looked after this remarkable gift from Ike and the rest of the Greatest Generation.
Since 2008, Congress has voted to extend highway reauthorization 33 times, each time patching up and postponing the inevitable need for long-lasting resolution. In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America’s infrastructure a D+ on its report card. In 2014, 145,000 bridges – a quarter of all the bridges in United States – were rated as deficient or obsolete.
Right here in Maine, 796 bridges – about 32 percent of the total in the state – were given that same troubling rating. This is not only unsafe, it’s damaging to our economy. When we fail to fix our infrastructure, we’re really passing an amassing debt on to our kids and grandkids. So as Congress debates the reauthorization of the Federal Highway Trust Fund, I have urged my colleagues to support significant funding and investment in this critical aspect of our infrastructure.
Encouragingly, the Senate was able to come together on a bi-partisan basis and pass the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act – a long-term authorization of the Highway Trust Fund. The DRIVE Act provides increased funding and gives state and local governments room to allocate resources as needed for the next three years. In addition, the legislation would provide certainty and time to plan projects without the threat of losing funding.
This is a significant step forward for improving our highway system, but it is not a victory. The House didn’t take up our bill, and with the Highway Trust Fund set to expire on July 31, we once again had to settle for a short-term extension. These short-term measures are irresponsible and unsustainable, so as the year progresses, there needs to be substantial and meaningful dialogue between the two branches of our legislature to establish an enduring solution that adequately propels our highway system into the 21st century.
Roadways are the veins that connect communities, bring people together, and support economic activity – and we must give them the care and investment that they are due. An interconnected and efficient highway system is essential to the function of this country.
In a special message to Congress on Feb. 22, 1955 President Eisenhower captured the essence and purpose of the interstate highway system: “Together, the united forces of our communication and transportation systems are dynamic elements in the very name we bear – United States. Without them, we would be a mere alliance of many separate parts.”