WASHINGTON, Feb. 16 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told a Senate panel today it is time for an aggressive national initiative to rebuild crumbling roads, bridges and railroads.
A member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Sanders spoke at a hearing on a long-term reauthorization of highway, transit and highway safety programs.
In addition to addressing a backlog of needed repairs, the investment would create jobs at a time of lingering high unemployment caused by the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. “Millions of people have lost their jobs as a result of Wall Street greed. We have a record-breaking deficit. The middle class is disappearing, and the gap between the very rich and everybody else is growing wider,” Sanders said. “In my view, it is high time that we create millions of jobs rebuilding our deteriorating infrastructure.”
Both the Treasury Department and the White House Council of Economic Advisers have concluded that well-designed infrastructure investments raise economic growth and productivity, and have significant spillover effects on economic development, energy efficiency, public health and manufacturing. The studies found that the majority of jobs created are in the construction sector, which – with an unemployment rate of more than 22 percent – has been particularly hard hit during the recession.
The need for added investment is clear, Sanders said.
In Vermont, he noted, some railroads operate on infrastructure that has been in use since the Civil War. Thirty-five percent of Vermont’s 2,700 bridges are either “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete,” and more than half of those have structural deficiencies.
Nationwide, he added, a 2009 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America's roads, public transit and aviation a grade of “D” and concluded that $2.2 trillion would have to be invested to get to a “passable” condition.
Despite a history of leading the world in transportation innovations from the transcontinental railroad to the Interstate highway systems, the United States has recently lost ground. The U.S. invests only half as much of its gross domestic product on infrastructure projects as Europe and only about one-quarter of what the Chinese invest.
Sitting side by side at the committee witness table were AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue. The longtime adversaries both urged Congress to invest more in America's infrastructure.
“There is a broad understanding that now is the moment to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. Let’s go forward on this. We have an opportunity to do a whole lot for America,” Sanders concluded.