Trib OpEd: Infrastructure: the Backbone of this Country

By: Mike Salsgiver
Executive Director, AGC Oregon-Columbia Chapter

This article was published by the Business Tribune in Transportation Now! on November 19 and can be viewed here.

The construction industry will be at the forefront of efforts to capitalize on emerging consensus and get real legislation passed.

Now that the 2018 midterm elections are behind us, we can take stock of the messages voters sent and the directions being set for the country and the state.

It would be easy to get lost in the give and take of what was a very raucous campaign season.

But more important to the construction sector — and to the state and nation at large — is what the elections meant in our continuing effort to build a better America.

Our economic progress, our quality of life, and our path to the future rely on the built environment. Over the past 150 years, America has built a society that has been a model for the world.

But the infrastructure we take for granted is showing its age.

Roads, highways, and bridges are aging rapidly and in some cases are continuing to deteriorate, often with huge impacts on quality of life, and sometimes with catastrophic consequences. Our rail system barely meets mid-twentieth century standards. Our ports and waterways need improvements. Public buildings, schools, and communications systems need to be brought rapidly into the 21st century. Water and sewer systems are failing.

In short, the need for ongoing investments in public infrastructure continues to be one of the biggest public policy needs facing every citizen. Fortunately, with some very senior and well-positioned members of Congress, Oregon and Washington are in a good position to face these challenges head on.

In federal affairs, the change in House leadership means that many of our elected officials will move into even more prominent positions that will allow them to drive the development of infrastructure policy.

Peter DeFazio, the longest-serving member of the Oregon House delegation, will become the chair of the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. DeFazio has long been on the forefront of infrastructure discussions. Now that he is chair, Congressman DeFazio has signaled his intent to push a historic $500 billion infrastructure and transportation investment package.

Representative Earl Blumenauer is also a persistent voice who supports infrastructure investments. His leadership has been especially active in supporting multi-modal transportation projects. With most of his district capturing the greater Portland metropolitan area, Blumenauer has directed his energies at educating other members of Congress, state and community leaders, and international partners on the need for a robust, twenty-first century transportation system. As a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Blumenauer is in the middle of discussions about how to pay for these investments.

Also in the House, Congressman Greg Walden will be moving from chair to the senior Republican (“ranking member”) of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Congressman Walden has developed a reputation as a strong, serious legislator who works well with members on both sides of the aisle. He is also a part of the House Republican leadership team and is well-positioned to be influential in making sure Oregon’s voice is heard as infrastructure bills are drafted.

In the United States Senate, Senator Ron Wyden is the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee. This committee oversees tax policy, and Senator Wyden is a critical voice on tax and trade. He was the driver of the Build America Bond program. This legislation helped states, local governments, and special districts to fund much of the infrastructure spending that occurred in the early 2000s.

In Washington State, Senator Patty Murray is a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Over the past decade, she has been a leading voice in nearly every major budget discussion facing the federal government. Like her Oregon colleagues, Senator Murray understands the intersection between infrastructure, trade, and the economy. She was a leading voice in earlier work to replace the I-5 interstate bridge and will undoubtedly emerge once again as a serious leader on this and other infrastructure issues.

Regardless of the tight margins in both chambers, the need for a long-term national infrastructure plan remains in front of us. That challenge is party-neutral. We must move from the “bill of the week” thinking to something more strategic and longer lasting.

Every year, construction representatives go to the occupant of the White House and to Congress to advocate for infrastructure. That will not change in 2019.

What has changed is that infrastructure has now emerged as a potentially unifying issue. The president and the incoming Speaker of the House, for example, have both identified the need for success in passing an infrastructure bill as a priority. That is good news, not just for construction, but for the entire country.

And once again, the construction industry will be at the forefront of those efforts to capitalize on that emerging consensus and get real legislation passed.

Our future depends on it.

Mike Salsgiver is the executive director of the Associated General Contractors, Oregon-Columbia Chapter. He can be reached at 503-685-8305 or by email at: mikes@agc-oregon.org.

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