By Ed Rendell and Roger Dow Special To The Washington Post.
America’s chock-a-block with landmarks, beaches, and mountains — if you can reach them. If you’re traveling this weekend, you’ll inevitably face mind-numbing congestion, flight delays and rail interruptions. And our headaches are going to get dramatically worse if Congress doesn’t tackle infrastructure modernization.
The Highway Trust Fund — which pays for our nation’s roads, bridges and highways — is about to run out of money. Here’s why: The Trust is funded by the federal gas tax, set at 18.4 cents per gallon for the past 21 years. But since then, cars have become much more fuel-efficient. That, plus inflation, has stretched the fund way too thin.
This is terrible news for travelers. American air travel infrastructure is in such bad shape that Thanksgiving-like passenger congestion will be a year-round reality at nearly all of the top 50 U.S. airports within the decade. Labor Day-like traffic will soon plague U.S. highways on the average day of the week.
It’s also bad for the economy. More than three out of four domestic trips are for leisure, which means they’re ostensibly optional. Direct spending on this travel totaled $621.4 billion in 2013, generating $91.9 billion in tax revenue. If our roads and transportation projects are gridlocked, Americans will avoid the headache and just stay home, which will hurt our economy and our quality of life.
We deserve better. Americans shouldn’t have to choose between staying at home, sitting in traffic, or hitting the road at 3 a.m. just to beat the rush.
Unfortunately, numerous reports about increased traffic, structurally deficient bridges, inadequate public transportation and potholed roads hasn’t spurred Congress to act. But if officials hear directly from you, their constituents, they might finally take notice.
That’s why we created the “I’m Stuck” app (for Apple and Android phones), which allows people to notify their representative or senator when they’re stuck in traffic, on the tarmac, or in a train. The pre-set message demands action on the Highway Trust Fund. You can add in your own comments, or just hit send.
It’s infuriating that the average American commuter wasted 38 hours and 19 gallons of fuel sitting in traffic in 2011, and that cities don’t have enough money to upgrade or expand their overburdened transit systems. Congestion costs the average American commuter $818 a year, including time lost at work and at home with our families. How can we expect to compete in a 21st century economy when we don’t have 21st century transportation systems?
America needs a long-term plan to modernize and build top-notch transportation systems that make our commutes reliable and allow goods to move more efficiently across the country. It’s time for the public to tell Washington to get America moving again and to take action to immediately replenish the Highway Trust Fund. By downloading the free app, which runs on both Android and Apple devices, frustrated commuters can get out the message: “I’m Stuck!”
Rendell is the former governor of Pennsylvania and the co-chair of Building America’s Future.
Dow is president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, the national umbrella organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., that represents all segments of travel in America.