Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County Chapter 4

Walking in Your Shoes to Restore the American Dream
Chapter 4: Investing in Our Infrastructure
Former Admiral Joe Sestak knows that America simply cannot compete in this
global economy without a world-class infrastructure – roads, bridges,
waterways, rail system, and wired.
If we want to remain a dominant economic power, we need to move fast: on
quality of infrastructure, we’re ranked behind South Korea, Japan, Canada,
Germany, France, and Singapore.
But I’m confident that, if we work together, we can out-compete any nation.
After all, we were the ones who built the Erie Canal, the Golden Gate Bridge, and
a national highway system that is still the envy of the world.
Pennsylvania deserves an advocate in the Senate who is determined to find practical solutions
to connect America for the 21st century.
The problem of neglect
Today, our infrastructure is crumbling all around us. Over 66,000 of America’s bridges are
structurally deficient, requiring significant maintenance or replacement. Highway congestion
costs the economy over $100 billion annually in wasted work hours and fuel, and the poor
condition of our roads costs individual drivers $324 per year in car repairs.
Our roads and bridges are only part of the story. We need to prepare our national freight
system for an 88 percent increase in tonnage by 2035. Airport delays and congestion cost us over
$22 billion per year, and interruptions at our inland waterways’ locks and dams sap hundreds of
millions more. Our seaports also need to be expanded to handle growing exports and imports.
And then there’s the spotty nature of our broadband connections. Millions of rural
Americans are without access to broadband Internet, and those with access in urban areas pay
higher bills for lower speeds than our global competitors. Overpowering corporate control of the
ways we connect to the Internet has lowered quality and diminished choices for consumers.
We need to act now: A smarter way to fund infrastructure
We’re trying to pay for 21st century infrastructure demand with a 20th century formula.
Currently, we use an 18.4 cents per gallon tax on gasoline and a 24.4 cents on diesel to fund our
Highway Trust Fund, which helps pay for maintenance, repair, and construction. These tax rates
have remained the same since 1993 – when a gallon of gas cost $1.16. Now, higher fuel
standards – which are necessary – mean less is paid into the highway fund and electric car
drivers get almost literally a “free ride” on the highways we all use.
For these reasons, Congress has had to bail out the Interstate Highway Fund over and over
again in last-minute piecemeal provisions, transferring well over $50 billion from the general
fund to the Trust Fund since 2008. And the fuel efficiency free-rider problem will only get worse
as the average fuel economy standard goes from 36.5 mpg in 2017 to 54.5 in 2025.
An effective fix for our highway funding challenges must recognize the necessity of shortterm measures as we strive to find long-term solutions. Short term, we must adjust the
gasoline tax while investigating a more fair use-based formula, that can help make the Highway
Trust Fund more solvent. Long term, we need to create a national infrastructure bank to finance
surface, water, and airway projects – leveraging both public and private capital.
We must look to models of successful public-private partnerships. In 2006, Indiana leased its
system of toll roads to a concession company for 75 years in exchange for $3.8 billion. The
company maintains the roads and gets toll revenue. The $3.8 billion Indiana received has funded
repairs and improvements – and made it the only state with a fully-funded transportation plan.
We need to act now: Wire America for global competition
In this global economy, each American’s ability to access to high speed Internet is just as
important as access to good roads. High-speed Internet is necessary for our small businesses to
market to the world. And with more than 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies requiring online
job applications, Internet access is a must. Research has shown that for every 1 percentage point
increase in broadband penetration, employment increased by 0.2 to 0.3 percent per year.
But access to low-cost, high-speed Internet is being hindered by a nationwide duopoly in
the market. With over 22 million subscribers, Comcast controls the wired market in 16 of the
top 25 U.S. cities – “the communications equivalent of Standard Oil.” Their main “competitor,”
Time Warner, has more than 12 million subscribers and controls most of the remaining regions.
The bottom line is that Washington is rewarding Internet providers’ poor performance
with tax breaks, lax regulation, and sweetheart deals. Rather than coddling the cable
companies, we should be holding them accountable for letting us slip from being the first nation
to develop the Internet to having one of the worst speeds of all developed nations. Instead of
encouraging cable companies’ customer service call center outsourcing in our tax code, we
should create incentives for cable companies that provide higher speeds at lower costs or that
enlarge the digital capacity for schools and hospitals.
Of all communities, those in rural areas are especially in need of greater Internet access.
Expanding rural broadband isn’t just about lending a hand to those left behind in the digital
revolution, it’s about maintaining America’s agricultural sector and preserving farming as a way
of life. After all, there are 2.1 million farms in America, with 62,100 in Pennsylvania alone. In
2012, agriculture brought in a net income of $114 billion – up from $85 billion in 2008.
Rural America’s economic future will depend on modern standards of connectivity. We
need to fund programs to wire farmers for access to weather and climate projections, new
techniques for caring for their plants and animals, and tools for banking, health care, and other
necessary small business applications. This will go a long way for farmers – who are small
business owners – but it will also pay dividends to our shared prosperity.
Keep building America, connecting us for the future
America has thrived because farsighted leaders worked to foster an
environment where our people and companies can succeed. We moved goods
in ways that the world had never known by charting a daring canal; we
networked a continent from sea to sea with an epic railroad; and, we looked out
to the world from the monumental Golden Gate, which still symbolizes our
creativity and “can-do” attitude. Today, we need leaders who look to the future,
providing the infrastructure and systems that we need to thrive in our own time.