Transportation Policy Academy 2016—Ed Mortimer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Ed Mortimer is executive director of transportation infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and leads the Americans for Transportation Mobility, or ATM, Coalition as its executive director. He was among the presenters at a policy roundtable CSG hosted on May 19 as part of the 6th Annual CSG Transportation Leaders Policy Academy in Washington. He spoke about the importance of infrastructure to the business community, the importance of Congress seeing progress on transportation projects under the FAST Act, the importance of maintaining existing infrastructure and efforts to consolidate federal transportation programs.

On the importance of infrastructure to the business community…

“Every business in America, one of the top three things they look at when they locate their business is what type of infrastructure is in that community. How do we get our employees to and from work? How can we move our product to market in a timely, cost-effective manner?”

On the ATM Coalition’s change in strategy…

“Our job is really to educate the members of Congress here and I think what we’ve found over the last 15 years as we’ve been pushing this through our Americans for Transportation Mobility Coalition is that we’ve focused a lot inside the Beltway. What we’re trying to pivot to now is outside-in. What we’ve found is that a lot of the great ideas come from the outside in.”

On the importance of “selling” successes under the FAST Act…

“We still need to have that adult conversation about how we finance transportation. Our thought is instead of talking about how to finance it, let’s talk about what this bill has done. We’re already about five months in. We’re seeing projects actually moving through the (planning) process. We’re hoping to have some construction in the fall. One of the things we’re going to do as the U.S. Chamber … is as you all see projects in your community go to construction because of the Federal bill, because of the certainty of that bill and your state (department of transportation) is now confident they know what they’re going to get from the federal government for five years, and you see projects move forward, … we’d like to get those messages here to Washington. Because it’s funny how lawmakers back home go to all these ribbon cuttings. They seem to come here and forget. … What they forget is they think this is all just federal money and the federal money goes out and builds projects. And as you all know, it isn’t just federal money. … It’s the backbone of the financing mechanism but there’s a partnership between the states, the local governments … private equity.”

On mileage-based user fees as a possible future transportation revenue option…

“So what we at the Chamber support is providing communities a toolbox of options and then the communities can decide which options fit that community to solve their transportation needs. … There is no one solution. We believe in a variety of solutions. We talked about (mileage-based user fees). That is one of the solutions but again I think in our opinion that’s probably 10 to 15 years away. We’re making progress on it but we’re not there yet. And so in our opinion we at the federal level need one more revenue adjustment until we get to a (mileage-based user fee) situation.”

On how success under the FAST Act might ensure future transportation funding…

“But what we’re hoping is that we can set the predicate here that the FAST Act was a partnership between state, local, private money. That it actually was transparent, it delivered on time, on budget and that the public sees the benefits of it. Once we get that good feeling up here in Congress and they understand that it’s not just federal money, then we can have the adult conversation for how we finance these projects (going forward). Because a lot of times what happens when we pass these big bills is everyone crawls into a hole for four or five years and a year or two before the bill, they come up here and ask for more money. That’s not going to get us where we need to go. So we constantly need to harp on the projects that are moving forward, the quality of life it provides, the jobs that are created both directly through construction and indirectly through businesses that locate near new infrastructure.”

On the importance of maintaining existing infrastructure…

“Right here in the Nation’s Capital, we had one of the best transit systems in the country (Metro). When it was built, it was state of the art. … We waited about 20 years and now the number here is $17 billion to fix the system. If we fixed the problem right away, if we maintained the system while it was continuing on, we could have probably spent a fraction of that. …We had infrastructure that was the envy of the world, but we let it decay. A decade ago, we were No. 8 in the world. Now we’re No. 16. We’re competing against the world and we’re falling behind. We can’t allow that to happen. Maintenance isn’t sexy. Ribbon cuttings are sexy. But if you don’t maintain what you have, the costs are exponential. If we had indexed the (federal) gas tax, there would’ve been an extra $100 billion to $150 billion. Imagine what we could have done with that.”
 

On efforts to streamline federal transportation programs and requirements for states…

“Before MAP-21 was passed in 2012, there were about 108 federal program requirements for states to meet. Congress decided that was too much. They consolidated them down into 12 programs. We’re making progress. We’re still not where you need to go. But I’m telling you, we started at 108, we’re down to 12 to give states flexibility to flex money into areas that they need. We as the Chamber are going to continue to encourage that because we need to have some national standards. We do have a national system. We believe very strongly in the federal role in the sense that we want to make sure the roads in New Hampshire are the same as the roads in Wyoming, that there’s a quality there. So when your constituents are moving cross country, they know what they’re going to get. … Consolidation of the programs has happened here at the federal level. It’s not perfect but we’re making progress in trying to get the federal government out of every individual type of program and to provide states more flexibility.”

Further Reading