The Build for America Plan: Invest in Transportation, Create Jobs

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Janette Sadik-Khan, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Lee Sander. Photo: Paul White.

The Build for America campaign officially launched yesterday afternoon at Grand Central Terminal, one of six events held in cities across the nation. DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan — joined by MTA chief Lee Sander, U.S. reps Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney, and a bevy of advocates — advanced the case for committing ambitious levels of federal support to modernizing the nation’s transportation system.

"America’s transportation system is facing a perfect storm of huge costs, declining infrastructure, dwindling resources and dependence on foreign oil," said Sadik-Khan. "And while we’re struggling just to fix and maintain our roads, our global competitors are building systems that we simply don’t have." The United States does not have a high-speed rail system, she added, and the nation’s transit systems are struggling just to keep up with ridership demand.

Most speakers hewed to an economic argument: Federal investment in
transportation infrastructure can create
jobs as the nation faces the prospect of a deep recession. Investing that money wisely, they said, requires re-orienting spending priorities away from new highway construction and toward rail and transit.

Noting that federal spending on infrastructure has declined since 1980 from 3 percent of GDP to 1.8 percent, Nadler set a target allocation of $500 billion for the next multi-year transportation spending package (the previous package authorized $248 billion over six years). "If we do it right, it will help us get out of the very deep recession we’re going into," he said, placing an emphasis on investment in passenger and freight rail. "If we don’t do it right, it will make the recession deeper and reduce our competitiveness."

New York has a lot riding on the re-authorization. With the MTA facing a funding crisis, Sander painted a bleak picture of how the city’s transit system may deteriorate without more federal support, invoking its sorry state in the 1970s and 80s.

"The resurgence of New York is very much linked to the improved performance of the MTA," he said. "We will not be able to maintain this success without a renewed commitment from our funding partners, including the federal government. You can be sure that one finding of the Ravitch Commission will be that we cannot succeed without a strong federal bill."

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