We must fix our transportation problems

Published 8:38 am Wednesday, February 25, 2015

By U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne

Our nation’s roads, bridges, interstates and waterways are the lifeblood of our economy. From the founding of our nation, our leaders have realized the importance of having a safe, efficient system of roads. In fact, in the early 1800s, President Thomas Jefferson put forward a national plan for the construction of ports, roads, and inland waterways.

I believe that funding transportation projects is a clear responsibility of the federal government. The Constitution gives Congress the power over “regulation of commerce with foreign nations and among the several states” in addition to the power to “establish Post Offices and Post Roads.”

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Having a viable system of roads is a critical component for commerce. Many companies transport their goods from state to state on roadways, and almost every business depends on the highway system in some way. It is clear that a reliable funding stream for our nation’s infrastructure is vitally important to our competitiveness on the world stage.

Right here in southwest Alabama, we have a number of important road projects. During my meetings with local county commissioners and mayors, I often hear about different projects that need attention. While most control over state and county roads falls to the Alabama Department of Transportation, I am always happy to work with local officials to move these projects forward.

I know about the need for four-laning Highway 84, which runs through Monroe and Clarke counties. I’ve heard from multiple officials about the need for widening Highway 45 in north Mobile and Washington counties to make the road safer. In Baldwin County, Highway 181 on the Eastern Shore and the Baldwin Beach Express are both pressing needs. There is also a major need for four-laning U.S. 31 from Flomaton to Bay Minette.

Without a doubt, a new I-10 bridge over the Mobile River is the most important transportation project for southwest Alabama. Anyone who has driven on Interstate 10 during rush hour or on a Friday afternoon in the summer can likely attest to major traffic issues caused by the Wallace Tunnel. This project would boost our area’s economic competitiveness, provide a safe Hurricane Evacuation Route for the entire Gulf Coast, and boost tourism.

I was pleased to learn that the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) recently announced that they would “fast track” the design phase for the bridge project. While the work continues on finalizing the required Environmental Impact Statement, ALDOT has settled on a bridge route and is moving ahead with the design phase. I have invited the federal Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, to visit Mobile to learn more about this project, and I look forward to his visit later this year.

With the I-10 bridge and the other projects, the number one obstacle standing in the way deals with a lack of funding. Unfortunately, our nation’s current source for funding transportation, known as the Highway Trust Fund, is running out of money. The Highway Trust Fund (HTF) receives funding from the federal fuel tax of 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon on diesel fuel.  Since 2008, the HTF’s spending has exceeded the amount it’s collected, and more than $53 billion has been supplemented from the Treasury.

Having a reliable transportation system is critical to our nation’s economic success, and Congress must get serious about finding a long-term funding solution for our highway program. I am committed to being a part of finding that solution.