U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, spent three hours Monday testifying virtually before the House Rules Committee on a five-year, $500 billion transportation bill he said would rebuild the nation’s infrastructure while creating American jobs.
The INVEST in America Act would invest $319 billion to fix broken and outdated highways and bridges. It would also invest in transit, rail, harbor maintenance, rural broadband and wastewater treatment. And it includes provisions for reducing carbon output, such as investing in zero-emission buses and electric vehicle charging stations.
“I’m proving with this that we can rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, which is falling apart — 47,000 bridges in the national highway system need repair or replacement, 40% of the national highway system needs to be totally rebuilt, not just resurfaced, and a $100 billion backlog for saving and repairing transit. And I said we can do all that and create millions of jobs, good-paying jobs,” DeFazio told The News-Review on Monday.
DeFazio said his bill closes loopholes for its Buy America provisions.
“Everything that goes into this will be made in America, which is going to create a lot of jobs,” he said.
He said those jobs will provide living wages and benefits, all of which is important at a time when jobs have been lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also said the rural communities in his Southwest Oregon district would benefit through the improvement of highways and bridges, as well as assistance with wastewater treatment and expansion of rural broadband services.
Smaller cities would also receive assistance for public transportation.
The bill would increase transportation spending over the next five years by 40%, but DeFazio said it’s long overdue.
“We haven’t really significantly increased investment since 1994, when the Democrats and 60 Republicans voted to raise the federal gas tax. It hasn’t been raised since, so federal investment has been pretty flat for 26 years while the system’s falling apart,” DeFazio said.
As for how to pay for the transportation investments he proposes, DeFazio said that will be up to the Ways and Means Committee to decide. However, he said he has recommended bond financing. Ultimately, he said, it’s likely that once more electric vehicles are on the road, the government will move away from the gas taxes that currently fund transportation toward a pay-per-mile system that would have drivers of all types of vehicles sharing transportation costs.
DeFazio said he expects some negotiating in the Senate over the transportation package. As to whether President Donald Trump would support it, DeFazio noted that the president a year and a half ago proposed spending $2 trillion on infrastructure. However, he said more recent budget proposals from the White House called for cuts to investments in roads, bridges and highways.
The bill is expected to be up for a vote on the House floor this week.
“It’s going to be our birthday gift to the United States of America,” he said.