WASHINGTON INSIGHT

Four bills address infrastructure needs

Maggie Doucette
Government Affairs Associate
American Public Works Association
Washington, D.C.

Over the past several years the United States has experienced a real wake-up call to its deteriorating infrastructure. There was the collapse of the levies during 2005's Hurricane Katrina, the July 2007 New York City steam pipe explosion and the August 2007 Minneapolis bridge collapse. These failures coupled with decades of chronic underinvestment now serve as a constant reminder that our nation faces an infrastructure crisis that jeopardizes our quality of life. Several members of Congress have responded with legislative proposals aimed at addressing infrastructure needs. These bills include: The National Infrastructure Improvement Act; The National Infrastructure Bank Act; The Build America Bonds Act; and The United States Commission on Infrastructure Investment Act.

The National Infrastructure Improvement Act would establish the National Commission on the Infrastructure of the United States. The act, introduced by Senators Thomas Carper (D-DE) and George Voinovich (R-OH) and Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN), would create an eight-member commission, and would require it to complete three studies regarding the infrastructure needs of the United States. By February 2010, the Commission would issue recommendations based on these studies. On August 2, 2007 the United States Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent, and on August 3, 2007 it was referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, where it currently remains. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of this legislation is that the Commission would be required to develop a federal plan for Congress, outlining national infrastructure priorities that detail infrastructure legislation deemed necessary for the next five, 15, 30 and 50 years.

The next significant piece of legislation is The National Infrastructure Bank Act. This bill, introduced on August 1, 2007 by Senators Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE), is a bipartisan measure that addresses the critical needs of our nation's major infrastructure systems. The legislation would create an independent national bank, financed with a $60 billion bond issue, which would identify, evaluate and help finance infrastructure projects of substantial regional and national significance. These projects would include publicly-owned mass transit systems, roads, bridges, drinking water and wastewater systems and housing projects. Currently, the legislation is in committee. On August 3, 2007 it was referred to both the House Financial Services Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. On March 11, 2008 the Senate began its hearings in the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee.

Like the Dodd/Hagel National Infrastructure Bank Act, The Build America Bonds Act would create jobs, spur the economy, and improve the quality of life in America; however, this bill would focus solely on transportation projects like roads, bridges, transit, rails and ports. Build America Bonds would provide $50 billion in new funding for projects selected by the states. The legislation would allow individuals to personally buy bonds as a direct investment in the infrastructure they use every day. The bill was introduced on September 6, 2007 by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and John Thune (R-SD). It has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee where it currently awaits a hearing.

Lastly, Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has proposed draft legislation that would establish an 18-member commission with duties that would include: reviewing existing congressional reports on infrastructure; conducting public hearings on infrastructure in no less than 50 congressional districts; providing a "national vision" for infrastructure investments, which would include specific recommendations; and finally, to set forth model principles that will inform future infrastructure investments made by Congress. Representative Blumenauer plans to introduce this legislation in mid-April 2008.

So, while many in the U.S. are still coping with the tragic events of the last few years, infrastructure investment may be gathering some momentum in Congress. Today, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimates the national infrastructure needs at more than $1.63 trillion over the next five years. While that may seem an impossible gap to close, some lawmakers are working to help make that happen.

For more information about these and other infrastructure bills, please visit the Advocacy section of APWA's website at www.apwa.net/Advocacy/.

Maggie Doucette can be reached at (202) 218-6712 or mdoucette@apwa.net.