Rebuilding and Renewing America
It’s time to rebuild and renew America.
It is no secret that America is falling apart and falling behind our global competitors. Once known for world-class roads, highways and bridges, the United States has significantly reduced its infrastructure spending during the last 50 years. Today, much of our infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life—most water mains and pipes are more than 50 years old, and nearly 50,000 of our bridges are structurally deficient. After assessing everything from roads and transit systems to drinking water and airports, a 2017 report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States a D+. We need over $4 trillion to achieve a good state of repair by 2025.
Transportation plays a major role in our quality of life, influencing everything from access to economic opportunities to environmental protection and community safety. Earl is a tireless advocate for increasing the number and variety of transportation choices available to people in urban and rural communities. Providing affordable, safe, and accessible transportation options is imperative to improving economic opportunity and upward mobility for all Oregonians.
Earl is pushing for federal policies that provide communities with the flexibility to design the transportation system that fits their needs. This includes adequate funding and technical assistance for transportation planning, investments in affordable public transportation like buses and light rail, improved pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, high-speed rail, and adequate capacity for freight and highway needs. Critically, these investments must be antiracist and can’t sacrifice environmental protections and goals.
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 not changed since 1993 at 18.4 cents a gallon and has lost more than 40% of its purchasing power 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 and is projected to be insolvent by 2022.
To make up for the lost fuel tax revenue, Congress has borrowed more than $140 billion from the Treasury’s General Fund since 2008 just to maintain inadequate infrastructure. If current spending levels stay the same, the Highway Trust Fund faces a shortfall of more than $160 billion over the next 10 years. Earl has introduced legislation to fill this shortfall and increase spending by raising the federal gas tax 5 cents a year for the next 5 years and then indexing the tax to inflation. While the average driver already pays more than $600 a year in vehicle maintenance due to potholes and rough roads, and more than $1,400 a year due to congestion, a moderate increase in the federal gas tax will cost less than $3 a week to the average driver and provide immeasurable benefits to motorists and non-motorists alike.
While a gas tax increase will help in the short term, more fuel-efficient cars make it important to transition away from the gas tax and toward a true user fee. It doesn’t make sense to tie infrastructure investment to how much gas is consumed when electric vehicles are becoming increasingly common. A more sustainable, fair, and efficient user fee is charging drivers by how far they drive. Earl successfully created a five-year pilot program at the U.S. Department of Transportation funding projects around the country that explore mileage-based alternatives to the gas tax. Today, Oregonians can take advantage of a road usage charge (RUC) alternative to the gas tax. Earl’s legislation would encourage other states to do the same. Earl is working in Congress to expand this program and scale it up to the national level.
Bike and Pedestrian Issues
For more than 60 years, transportation policy – and most of the funding – has been focused on the automobile, relegating less expensive and healthier modes of transportation like walking and bicycling to ‘alternative’ status. This has meant that government subsidies disproportionately flow toward wealthy individuals who can afford to drive, rather than transit-riders, bikers, and walkers who may not be able to afford a vehicle.
Throughout his career, Earl has been a champion for bike and pedestrian issues. From riding his bike to work in the Oregon State Legislature to creating the City of Portland’s Bicycle Program as a City Commissioner to enacting a federal bicycle commuter tax benefit, Earl knows that biking and walking are important as basic transportation modes as well as for individual health, our environment, and the economic vitality of our communities.
Americans who understand the value of active transportation aren’t just bicycle fanatics. They are families, public health advocates, educators, school children, environmentalists, business leaders, and offices of tourism and economic development. Constructing better bike lanes and sidewalks for people who chose to walk and ride their bikes creates jobs, gives people more and healthier choices for their daily transportation needs, is better for the environment, creates safer communities, and strengthens local economies. To learn more about Earl’s bicycling advocacy in Congress, please visit The Congressional Bike Caucus.
While the funding woes of roads, bridges, and transit systems are readily apparent and visible, what is under the surface is in worse shape. The overall federal government contribution to total clean water spending has shrunk from 78% in 1978 to 3% today. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that we need $655 billion in water infrastructure investments over the next 20 years, yet Congress invests an average of only $2.5 billion annually and there is no dedicated water infrastructure revenue source. Chronic underfunding of our water infrastructure systems disproportionately impacts communities of color because of community disinvestment, residential segregation, and discrimination.
To begin to meet the water infrastructure needs of our nation, Earl has introduced legislation to create a Water Infrastructure Trust Fund. This fund will provide a deficit-neutral, consistent and fire-walled source of revenue for states to support the replacement, repair, and rehabilitation of clean and drinking water infrastructure. Earl also worked with his colleagues to pass legislation that allows states to leverage their water infrastructure funds to increase investment for all sizes of water infrastructure projects.
With the cost of transportation becoming an increasing share of low- and moderate-income Americans’ budgets, access to reliable and affordable transportation options is important. The growing threat of climate change makes it imperative.
Earl has been a champion for public transportation projects throughout his career. As Portland’s Public Works Commissioner, he successfully expanded Portland’s single light-rail line into a regionwide system: The Metropolitan Area Express or ‘MAX.’ He has translated these local successes nationwide by securing billions of dollars of funding for transit expansions, including the MAX Orange Line, working with the Federal Transit Administration to promote transit-oriented development, and founding one of the largest national conferences promoting livable communities.
Dozens of communities around the country want small-scale rail-based transit lines – similar to the Portland Streetcar – creating jobs and connecting urban neighborhoods. Earl is a strong advocate of the streetcar as a transportation and community revitalization tool, and created the “Small Starts” program, which matches local funds to provide capital and start-up costs for small transit project development and expansion.
The Future of Transportation
Urbanization, changing travel trends, new modes of transportation, and autonomous vehicles (AVs) all will lead to a radically different mobility landscape. We have a rare opportunity to use these changes to solve problems rather than create new ones.
AVs will affect the employment of more than 4 million drivers, the largest source of jobs in more than half of the states. They will also change the car repair and car insurance industries. Integrating AVs with ridesharing and carsharing services will only further disrupt employment trends. Driverless cars will also affect the built environment by making many parking garages and wide traffic lanes obsolete, opening spaces for affordable housing, businesses, bike lanes, and parks. Without proper planning and policies, basic infrastructure will fall into further disrepair, and we will squander an opportunity to have smarter, more sustainable cities. Fleets of AVs will also be largely electric, contributing little in traditional transportation user fees, like gas taxes, parking fees, and traffic fines.
Earl is a leading voice on Capitol Hill for updating our transportation policies for the 21st century. He has pushed for more stable, equitable transportation funding alternatives, modernized commuter benefit tax provisions, and giving communities the technical assistance they need to successfully plan for the future.
For more information about Earl's works and priorities for rebuilding and renewing America, please contact the office.