SHAHEEN: INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT CRITICAL TO ECONOMIC GROWTH

November 03, 2011


                                                                                                                    

U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) spoke on the Senate floor Wednesday to emphasize the importance of investing in American infrastructure to help create jobs and maintain competitiveness in the global economy. Below are her remarks, as prepared for delivery:

I would like to take this opportunity to speak to you all about S. 1769, an important piece of legislation that would put millions of Americans back to work rebuilding our nation’s roads, bridges, airports, and railways.

The bill before us has two components. The first is a direct 50 billion dollar federal investment in our infrastructure, split between road, rail, transit and airport projects. More than half would go to our well-established, formula-driven highway and transit programs, including 132 million dollars for New Hampshire.

The second component of this proposal would create an infrastructure bank, legislation I have cosponsored. The bank can leverage public dollars to attract private capital, leading to hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure projects over the next 10 years. It’s a bipartisan idea that has attracted the support of both the AFL-CIO and the US Chamber of Commerce.

Together, these proposals mean immediate jobs for our construction industry, which has been one of the hardest hit by the recession. In New Hampshire the number of people working in the construction industry in 2010 was the lowest it’s been in a decade, 25 percent lower than it was in just 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Christian Zimmermann, head of Pike Industries in Belmont, New Hampshire, has laid off 150 workers in recent years, as federal funding to build New Hampshire roads has run out.

More highway funding means more roads to build and more jobs for construction workers. More jobs for construction workers means more consumer spending, and a stronger overall economy. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that every 1 billion dollars in highway spending supports more than 27,000 jobs. Economists at Moody’s estimate that for every dollar spent on infrastructure, our GDP goes up by one dollar and 59 cents, thanks to the ripple effect it produces in economic activity.

These short-term economic benefits are crucial for families suffering now. But the long term benefits of infrastructure are equally important.

We call it infrastructure because “infra” means “below.” It is the structure beneath everything else. It’s what we build on, the foundation. Our businesses, our workers, our innovators – all of them rely on a system of quality transportation to succeed.

According to numerous studies, deteriorating infrastructure costs businesses more than a hundred billion dollars a year in lost productivity. And there is ample evidence that our lack of investment in recent years is making itself felt in the condition of our roads and bridges.

This past June, New Hampshire’s Society of Civil Engineers issued a report card on the condition of our state’s roads and bridges, dams and wastewater facilities, airports and waterways. Their report card gave our state’s infrastructure a grade of “C.”

Fully one third of New Hampshire’s roads are in poor condition and require major maintenance, according to that organization and state records.

Fifteen percent of our state’s bridges, more than 370 of them, are rated structurally deficient by the Federal Highway Administration.

This bill would provide New Hampshire with $124 million in federal highway funding and enable state transportation officials to start addressing these pressing needs.

The bulk of New Hampshire’s federal highway funding would go to a project that’s already underway but has been threatened by the uncertainty surrounding federal funding. The widening of Interstate 93 in southern New Hampshire is long overdue and badly needed by the commuters and businesses in that area.

The I-93 project was budgeted and planned based on the idea that the federal government would provide a consistent level of funding. But the House Republican budget called for a 35 percent cut in our highway program, and Congress has been unable to reach an agreement on a long-term authorization. The uncertainty and prospect of such a drastic cut has made this project difficult to finance.  Right now, New Hampshire transportation officials have 115 million dollars worth of bonding authority for this project sitting on the sidelines until the federal government makes good on its funding commitments. The bill before us today can help complete this vital project and others like it.

One example of the benefits that infrastructure investment offers is the new access road to my state’s largest airport in Manchester, which will open to traffic a full two years ahead of schedule. The project was accelerated by funding it received from the Recovery Act, which spurred hiring and speeded the project along. With the road set to open just days from now, local planning boards have already seen increased interest from commercial developers in the land along the road.

The Airport would also benefit from this legislation’s investment in our out-of-date air traffic control system.

A GPS-based, next-generation air traffic control system would allow the entire airline industry to plan more efficient, point-to-point routes and save on fuel costs. This, in turn, would make it much easier for airlines to fly into a small hub airport like Manchester.

Even the recent heavy snowfall that New Hampshire and much of the East Coast just experienced serves as a reminder of the importance of investing in our infrastructure. As the Manchester Chamber of Commerce told me, “the recent snows and resulting power outages show just how critical public infrastructure is to the Greater Manchester region. Without reliable power, bridges, public transportation and roads, business cannot thrive.” The Manchester Chamber believes investment in infrastructure is critical to growing our economy and creating jobs, and I share that belief.

It’s a belief that was widely shared during my time in the New Hampshire State Senate and as Governor. We worked together, on a bipartisan basis, because Republicans and Democrats both understood that investing in infrastructure produces returns.

Whether it’s a highway that makes people’s commute easier, or a NextGen air traffic control system that reduces fuel costs for airlines and their customers, infrastructure investment produces widespread benefits.

New Hampshire, and the rest of the nation, needs this investment. Our unemployed need the work. And our businesses need the right environment for long term growth and competitiveness.

I urge passage of this bill.

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