By U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, published in the Tampa Bay Times on May 22, 2015.
America must move beyond the transportation gridlock and address its crumbling infrastructure. Yet Congress is poised to kick the can down the road again, while you sit in traffic, flights are delayed, transit systems await repairs and America stays stuck in neutral.
We should all be frustrated that Congress will fail to meet the May 31 deadline to adopt a long-term transportation bill largely because Republicans are divided on whether and how to move forward. Some Republicans even hope to push the responsibility to fund highways and infrastructure onto the states and local communities, thereby asking us to fend for ourselves when America needs to work together on a bold infrastructure plan for the future.
This is another unnecessary and harmful congressionally manufactured crisis.
Meanwhile, the National Association of Civil Engineers grades America's infrastructure with a "D" and the list of repairs for bridges and highways grows. In Florida, 259 bridges are rated as structurally deficient.
Congress used to adopt six-year plans to provide economic certainty and funding to communities. No more. Instead, Congress will "patch" and Congress will "delay." Critical construction projects are simply plans on paper and the good-paying jobs do not materialize.
Thanks mainly to the one-time infusion from the American Recovery Act, we can point to recently completed projects that have eased congestion and spurred jobs and economic growth. The massive Interstate 4/Crosstown Connector project helped create jobs and grow our local economy during the worst recession in our lifetime. It continues to position Port Tampa Bay for future growth because it allows more direct access to the interstate.
Similar projects to lift the Tampa Bay area will suffer without a long-term transportation bill. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx called the congestion on Interstate 275 "unacceptable" as we walked the construction site last year for the 4.2-mile widening project in Tampa. While the widening project is scheduled to be completed next year, the future is grim for the Howard Frankland Bridge, expanded transit and other connections if Congress cannot act.
There is too much talk in Washington and not enough action, although recent actions are scary, too. The recently adopted Republican budget makes deep cuts in transportation funding — $235 billion over 10 years — crippling efforts to maintain and expand our transportation infrastructure and putting hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk. The cuts total 26 percent over 10 years. I offered an amendment to the House budget to reverse the cuts, but House Republicans defeated it.
The Tampa Bay area and our nation would benefit greatly from a long-term infrastructure plan. You want to get to work on time. We want tourists to enjoy their Florida stay. You may be looking for that higher-paying construction or engineering job. Local communities cannot build bridges, repair highways and expand transit alone. Congress must provide the tools and funding in partnership so that local communities can intelligently plan for the future and our economy can continue to improve.
We can't give up. Transportation and infrastructure investments keep Tampa Bay's economy moving. Help me urge Congress to get moving as well.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor represents congressional District 14, which includes Tampa and parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.