Arthur I. Cyr: Indiana provides national transportation leadership
The U.S. House of Representatives at last has moved to fund urgently needed nationwide transportation. Literally every part of our country is touched by federal transportation support. Indiana Governor Mike Pence has underscored the point by announcing a substantial widening of Interstate Highway 65, a major and overcrowded highway.
While this amounts to a victory of new House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), the most impressive transportation leadership is being provided at the state level, where neighboring Indiana has emerged as a leader.
In November, the House passed the first long-term bill in nearly a decade for surface transportation. The vote was 363 to 64. The Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 (STRR ACT) authorizes $340 billion over six years. Approximately 80 percent of the funds are reserved for highways. Until now, both the Obama administration and Congress have failed even to address urgent transportation needs comprehensively.
Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke criticizes the House bill for using interest payments from the Fed’s portfolio, which normally go to the U.S. Treasury. The slight-of-hand avoids increasing taxes.
Last year, as the U.S. Highway Trust Fund was going broke, Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) of the House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee and Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) used funds reserved for storage tank repair, plus pensions and customs resources for a financial quick fix.
In July 2014 a blue ribbon policy panel completed a comprehensive transportation infrastructure report to Republican Governor Pence. The document contains a number of detailed recommendations. These include comprehensive integration of all forms of existing transportation, including highways, rail, and air and water traffic. This strategic vision is complemented by highly specific recommendations, for example possibly altering the conventional structure of interstate freight trucks. There is evaluation and priority listing of proposals.
Early in 2015, Pence in his second year in office proposed a one billion dollar highway improvement program. The state budget is strong but highways need repair and expansion. Democrats have made even more ambitious transportation proposals.
By contrast, in Wisconsin and Illinois transportation efforts are mired in economic and political difficulties. Both states also have Republican governors. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker faces growing criticism within his own party, in part because of an effort to fund substantial new highway work through bonds rather than current revenue. In Illinois, Governor Bruce Rauner remains locked in a destructive stalemate with the Democratic state legislature. The state has not had an approved budget for months.
Chicago is a global transportation hub crucial to all three states. There are great and growing regional strategic advantages in transportation. Chicago is among the largest container ports in the entire world. Transportation networks linking rail, roads and water make this possible. More than half the interstate truck traffic of the United States travels along the I-80/94, I-294 and related arteries.
Our Great Lakes region has Atlantic Ocean access through the St. Lawrence Seaway, complementing the great bulk of shipping moving through the Chicago metro area via rail, truck and water plus some air freight. Lack of an immediate major seaport encourages today’s intermodal movement.
While Chicago is our principal regional shipping center, our neighbor Indiana is providing effective and responsible state leadership which could benefit region and nation.
Our massive, magnificent U.S. highway network reflects the brilliant skills of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Today we lack comparable national political leadership.
Arthur I. Cyr is Director of the Clausen Center for World Business at Carthage College in Kenosha and author of “After the Cold War” (Macmillan and NYU Press). Contact him at email@example.com