Transportation and Water Infrastructure

Rebuilding and Renewing America

It’s no secret that America is falling apart and falling behind our global competitors.  Once known for world-class infrastructure, the United States was ranked 25th for overall infrastructure quality by the World Economic Forum. Today, much of our infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life—with water pipes and mains in most cities around 100 years old, and over 30% of our bridges are older than their 50-year design life. A 2013 report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the United States a D+, compiling assessments of all parts of our public infrastructure from roads and ports to inland water ways, rail, drinking water, and dams.  Oregon comes in at a C-. American infrastructure will need over $3 trillion to get to state of good repair by 2020. A failure to act will shift the burden to our children, and is already costing American taxpayers today.  It’s time to rebuild and renew America.

Transportation choices play a major role in quality of life, influencing everything from access to economic opportunities to environmental quality and community safety.  Congressman Blumenauer is a tireless advocate for increasing the number and variety of transportation choices available to Americans. Providing safe, convenient, and user-friendly transportation options gives Americans alternatives to help save money, improve their personal health, decrease their impact on the environment, promotes community economic development, and creates family wage jobs.

Congressman Blumenauer advocates for federal policies that provide communities with the flexibility to design the transportation systems that fit their needs. This includes adequate funding and technical assistance for transportation planning, light rail and streetcar transit systems, infrastructure to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety, high-speed rail, and capacity for freight and highway needs.

For more specific information on federal transportation funding and project opportunities, visit the U.S. Department of Transportation.  For more information on Oregon transportation policies, programs, and funding, visit the Oregon Department of Transportation.


Congressman Blumenauer's Priorities: 

Transportation Funding Certainty and Investment

It’s no secret why our roads and bridges are in such poor shape—the federal gas tax, the main source of transportation funding since the 1950s, is broken. The gas tax has remained unchanged since 1993 at 18.4 cents a gallon, and has lost over 40% of its purchasing power since then due to inflation, rising construction costs, and increased fuel efficiency. As a result, the Highway Trust Fund, the source of federal road and transit dollars, faces a growing shortfall, projected to run an annual deficit of over $14 billion. To make up for the lost fuel tax revenue, Congress has borrowed tens of billions from the general treasury fund, just to maintain our current, inadequate level of surface transportation spending.

Congressman Blumenauer introduced legislation that would end the general fund borrowing, bring the gas tax out of the 1990s, and increase investment in our roads and bridges. His widely supported legislation would raise gas and diesel taxes by 15 cents over three years, and index both taxes to inflation.

Congressman Blumenauer also introduced companion legislation that would fund pilot projects that explore mileage-based alternatives to the gas tax. It doesn’t make sense to tie our infrastructure investment to how much gas we consume, especially as American transportation habits change.  A more sustainable, fairer, and more efficient user fee is charging drivers by how far they go, not how many times they visit the pump. Oregon is currently exploring a road usage charge (RUC) alternative to the gas tax, and Blumenauer’s legislation would encourage other states to do the same.


Bike and Pedestrian Issues

Bicycling and walking are often called ‘alternative transportation’ modes.  In fact, they are our primary ways of moving from place to place; all of us learned to walk and many of us learned to ride a bicycle long before we slid into the driver’s seat of a car.  Sadly, for more than 60 years, we’ve focused our collective attention – and most of our funding – on the automobile, relegating the less expensive and healthier modes of walking and bicycling to ‘alternative’ status, only as important as the latest fad in fashion or lifestyle.

Congressman Blumenauer is a national champion for bike and pedestrian issues. He knows that bicycling and walking are important not only as basic transportation modes, but for individual health, our environment, safe streets, and increasingly for the economic vitality of our communities.  Here’s just a sampling of some of the benefits of these primary modes:

Congress recently passed a multiyear transportation bill, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.  Though the overall bill was mediocre, the bicycle and pedestrian provisions were a rare bright spot. Congressman Blumenauer successfully advocated for increased bike and pedestrian infrastructure funding and for the creation of a new non-motorized safety program.     Unfortunately, the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, under Republican leadership, is still focused on highway investments rather than projects that improve our overall transportation network, and there are still many in Congress who would like to scale back the federal government’s role in transportation and eliminate funding for bike projects. We still have our work cut out for us. 

The good news is that although our gains in Congress have been slow, we’ve made a great deal of progress at the local level.  Americans who understand the value of active transportation aren’t just bicycle fanatics, but families, public health advocates, educators, school children, business leaders, and offices of tourism and economic development.  In fact, people from all walks of life understand that constructing better facilities for people who chose to walk and ride their bikes creates jobs, gives them more and healthier choices for their daily transportation needs, creates safer communities, and strengthens local economies. Now, more than ever, it’s important for Americans to be telling their members of Congress that they want more transportation choices in their communities. To learn more, please visit the page for The Bike Caucus.


A Water Trust Fund

Our nation’s water infrastructure needs have grown while funding for clean water has declined.  The overall federal government contribution to total clean water spending has shrunk from 78% in 1978 to 3% today. The GAO, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Water Infrastructure Network, have estimated that the nation faces a growing water infrastructure funding gap of between $300-500 billion between what is currently being spent and what must be spent over the next 20 years in order to upgrade our aging water infrastructure.

In order to meet the water infrastructure needs of our nation, Congressman Blumenauer is proposing draft legislation to create a Water Trust Fund. The mission of this trust fund is to provide a deficit-neutral, consistent and fire-walled source of revenue to states to support the replacement, repair, and rehabilitation of clean and drinking water infrastructure. Read more on Congressman Blumenauer's Water Protection and Reinvestment Trust Fund Act.

Congressman Blumenauer is also a leader on national flood insurance reform and international water and sanitation.


Affordable Housing

Affordable housing is infrastructure, a worthy of public investment much like our roads, bridges and libraries. But Federal efforts to assist in creating and preserving affordable housing have fallen short in Congress. The federal government must be a better partner in supporting Americans in need of affordable housing or struggling to stay in their homes.  

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of urban communities and increased demand for walkable and livable neighborhoods. But communities, including my hometown of Portland, have struggled to keep pace with building and preserving affordable housing. The significant population growth facing the Portland metro region and other cities across the country has unfortunately led to fewer available affordable homes and apartments, especially in areas closest to employment centers and transportation choices. This shortage hits families, seniors and low income people especially hard.

Homelessness is a visible and ongoing challenge that our community continues to struggle with and cannot solve without affordable housing. Congressman Blumenauer has repeatedly spoken out against budget cuts that are vital to keep people in their homes and provide access to housing for those who need it most. Recently, I successfully led efforts to advocate for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to quickly provide more flexibility to our region to increase the value of housing vouchers to account for the rising cost of rent. Through the appropriation process, he has pushed for more funding of effective and needed housing programs including voucher assistance, HOME, Moving to Work and Community Development Block Grants. 


Streetcars and “Small Starts”

Dozens of communities around the country are expressing an interest in small-scale rail based transit lines – similar to the Portland Streetcar – to create jobs and redevelop central city areas and to connect neighborhoods.  Portland, Oregon recently celebrated the completion of its streetcar loop on both sides of the Willamette River.  Since 1998, the Portland streetcar project has resulted in over $4.5 billion in economic investment along the streetcar corridor, and over 30 cities have followed Portland’s lead and have new streetcar projects opened or underway. Congressman Blumenauer is a strong advocate of the streetcar as a transportation and community revitalization tool, and founded the “Small Starts” program, which matches local funds to provide capital and start-up costs for streetcar development and expansion. The program is aimed at smaller projects than traditional light rail projects and emphasizes economic redevelopment as an important aspect of each qualifying project.


High Speed and Freight Rail

As a vice-chair of the Intercity and High Speed Rail Caucus, Congressman Blumenauer is a strong supporter of high-speed rail. He has helped obtain funding to improve the rail line between Portland and Seattle, and encouraged communities around the country to plan and prepare for rail lines to improve commuter transportation,freight capacity, and plan growth around new rail investments. In addition, Blumenauer supports the creation of a national office to oversee rail planning, development and operation, to ensure that our rail system serves all users as efficiently as possible. The inclusion of passenger rail in the most recent transportation reauthorization is an overdue recognition of the important role passenger rail plays in our transportation network.

Blumenauer is also focusing on the needs of our freight system. Freight railroads are a critical part of the transportation system, carrying over 40% of all goods moved in this country. Over the next 25 years, freight volume will grow by nearly 50%, but increasingly congested corridors will greatly dampen the potential economic impact.  Rail provides an important alternative and in many cases, a compliment, to moving freight by air or highway, often moving goods more cheaply and with fewer environmental impacts. Congressman Blumenauer also supports increased funding for intermodal freight projects that will increase efficiency and goods movement on all parts of our freight network.

Congressman Blumenauer supports the expansion and modification of the current railroad track maintenance credit to (1) increase the allowable amount of the railroad track maintenance tax credit; (2) extend such credit through 2016; and (3) allow such credit against alternative minimum tax liabilities.  These changes will facilitate the expansion of short line railroads and support small businesses.


Transportation in Portland, Oregon

In Portland, ridership has steadily increased on rail and bus routes, and bicycle ridership is the highest in the nation for a large city at 7%. This increase is a reflection of substantial investment by the region and the federal government in providing high quality transit service and investing in bicycle infrastructure. In the last decade, Portland has expanded its MAX Light Rail system throughout the region. The early 2000’s saw the expansion of the MAX system to the Portland International Airport and along Interstate Ave. into North Portland. The service to Clackamas County to the southeast of Portland was achieved in Fall 2009 with the opening of the Green Line, then more recently with the Orange Line serving inner SE Portland and the city of Milwaukie.The region’s transit system now has over 60 miles of light rail and 97 stations.

Tri-Met, the region’s transit agency, has utilized a strong regional process of long-term planning, negotiations among regional partners, and the active engagement of the business community and those neighborhoods served by transit lines.  Consequently, Portland has developed innovative approaches for funding rail extensions that can be built more quickly and at a fraction of the price.  A great example is the Portland Streetcar—the first modern streetcar line in the United States—that opened in July, 2001. This original 2.4 mile alignment connected Portland State University with thriving business, retail and entertainment districts as well as the highest density neighborhood in the city. In 2012, Portland’s streetcar line expanded east across the river and to create a loop connecting Portland’s Central City on both sides of the Willamette River. The federal government contributed over $75 Million to the Portland Streetcar loop expansion.

2015 brought the opening of the Tilikum Crossing, the Bridge of the People, the first new bridge built across the Willamette since 1973. This bridge is the longest in North America built only for transit, biking and walking. It provides a vital new connection of the central eastside and new MAX orange line to South Waterfront neighborhoods, PSU and downtown Portland. With the opening of the Tilikum Crossing, the now 16 mile Portland Streetcar loop was completed.This project received nearly $700 Million in federal investment and was completed on time, under budget and with a precedent-setting number of partnerships with women and minority-owned businesses.Lastly, this bridge is the first in our region built to withstand a major seismic event .

Congressman Blumenauer is working to ensure the roads we drive on, the paths we bicycle on, the transit lines that take us to work, and the infrastructure that undergirds our way of life and our economic strength is safe, resilient, environmentally sustainable, and efficient.