In January, President Obama urged us to forge an America built to last. A surprising amount of the heavy lifting we need to make that happen takes place at the county level.
In 49 of our nation's 50 states, counties maintain the roads and bridges that connect us to each other, to our jobs and schools, and to the businesses and services we use each day. Many U.S. counties operate public transit systems. And when Americans need better transportation services--whether that involves roads that are safe and smooth or improved bus frequency--the counties hear about it first.
So, when I met this morning with the legislative conference of the National Association of Counties, we had a lot to talk about.
Americans count on their county governments to build and maintain the arteries that keep people and goods moving safely and effectively. And county governments look to state and federal support to help them do that important job. But, when the nation lacks a long-term transportation plan, our counties can't rely on that support. In fact, with our eighth extension of the Highway Trust Fund set to expire at the end of the month, America's counties are struggling to plan effectively beyond March 31.
That's why the folks I spoke with this morning agree with me--and with President Obama--that we need Congress to pass a good, long-term transportation bill that puts people back to work rebuilding our roadways, railways, runways, and transit systems.
- Fund road and bridge improvements: The President proposed $305 billion to do just that – a 34 percent increase over the previous authorization.
- Simplify the approach to project construction: The President would consolidate 55 highway programs into just five, and five transit programs into just two. He would also create a rapid response team to help fast-track key projects through the contracting and permitting processes so citizens can see the benefits of the projects they're funding sooner.
- Reward companies that keep jobs right here in America: The President's budget maintains a strong "Buy America" commitment. He also called on us to train a world-class American workforce that’s ready and able to perform the tens of thousands of transportation jobs that will be available in the coming years.
These core elements make good sense. And judging from the conversation I had this morning, they are exactly what our nation's counties need: get our roadways into a state of good repair; start projects more quickly; and make sure the jobs these projects create--from manufacturing to construction to operation--go to the men and women looking for work right here at home.
That's the challenge before us, and it's a big one. But our parents and grandparents were up to it, and they passed along to us an infrastructure that gave us access to tremendous opportunities. Now, we have the chance to do the same for future generations of Americans.
And I know we're up to it. Working together, we can put people back to work making a transportation system that’s the envy of the world – and an America that’s built to last.