VOL. 126 | NO. 221 | Friday, November 11, 2011
Infrastructure Needs at ‘Tipping Point’
By Bill Dries
U.S Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, said the nation has reached “a tipping point” in its infrastructure – the publicly funded roads, rails, runways and other facilities on which the country’s goods and services move.
Speaking on federal freight policy Thursday, Nov. 10, at the fifth annual Intermodal Conference, Cohen said he is “optimistic” Congress will pass one of several reauthorization bills this year that put infrastructure funding of some sort on a longer-term basis than repeated shorter extensions of such programs.
“The world has become so much more complicated and connected as we’ve gone on,” said Cohen, who serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“The sophistication of federal transportation policies has not evolved enough to service the needs and demands we have on our systems. As a result, our infrastructure, which was historically the envy of the world, no longer is.”
Cohen contrasted that with the development of the nation’s interstate system during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration in the 1950s and the key support of that legislation by then-U.S. Sen. Albert Gore Sr. of Tennessee.
He pointed to global rankings of infrastructure in nations that put the U.S. at about 24th in the world.
“We wouldn’t settle for the 24th best military in the world. But we settle for the 24th best infrastructure,” he told the group of more than 100.
“We shouldn’t. America can’t be known throughout the world as a military force. We should be known as an economic force. We’ve reached the tipping point for infrastructure.”
As he did last month at the formal dedication of the new Federal Aviation Administration control tower at Memphis International Airport, Cohen again pushed for passage of the Obama administration’s jobs bill as well as a $50 billion infrastructure reauthorization.
By Cohen’s estimate each billion dollars in federal infrastructure spending would mean 25,000 jobs. Cohen told the group at the university’s FedEx Institute of Technology that he’s aware of the criticism that such jobs are temporary.
“But nevertheless they are the highways and roads that move goods to market. And those create other jobs and it creates jobs for a long time,” Cohen said. “That’s a priority I’m going to be pushing for.”
Part of the ideological struggle between Democrats and Republicans in Congress is over the level of funding and its impact on the federal deficit.
“It’s smart to invest in infrastructure now,” Cohen said. “We’re going to have to invest in it at some time. It’s cheaper now than it will be tomorrow.”
The group of bills he discussed also includes federal funding for the aerotropolis concept in Memphis that designates the airport and civic push for the concept as the first in the nation, which is key to getting the funding.
Juan Flores, the new multimodal director for the Tennessee Department of Transportation, also introduced himself to those at the conference, sponsored by the University of Memphis Intermodal Freight Transportation Institute and the Greater Memphis Chamber.
Flores is a week into the job after being hired from the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
Flores said TDOT is undergoing a shift from focusing solely on building roads to a re-examination of the department’s goals.