Getting Washington to Listen on Job Creation

Southwest News-Herald
By Congressman Dan Lipinski

Now that the health care bill has moved from the House to the Senate, House leaders and the Obama Administration are talking about turning to job creation. I have never lost my focus on jobs because nothing is more important right now than reviving the economy and getting people back to work.

One way we can put millions to work is to invest in desperately needed improvements to our roads, highways, bridges, railways, and public transit. I have been pushing for such investments for a long time.

In early 2008, five months after the tragic Minnesota bridge collapse, I called for a federal program to fix our infrastructure and create jobs. But President Bush wanted to issue rebate checks instead. Though better than nothing, the rebates did not do nearly enough and unemployment kept rising.

Earlier this year, I insisted on adding $3 billion for public transit to the House version of the stimulus bill, which was woefully lacking in transportation funding. When the Senate removed that and more transportation money from the $787 billion bill, I could not support it. The bill passed and unemployment kept rising.

Every four to six years, Congress passes a bill to fund transportation infrastructure projects. The last bill passed in 2005 and was due to expire on October 1 of this year. With my colleagues on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I began working on a six-year, $500 billion bill. In June, we passed this bill in the Highway and Transit Subcommittee.

But the White House and the Senate decided they want to delay this bill 18 months. This makes no sense. Nothing creates as many jobs as quickly as spending on transportation projects. Every $1 billion spent on transportation creates and supports 47,500 good-paying American jobs. And whether it's repaving pothole-ridden neighborhood streets, extending transit lines, eliminating blocked rail crossings, or building the Central Avenue Bypass, money for transportation has a long-lasting impact on our economy. It's an investment in the future.

In all too many cases, it's also an investment that is long overdue. Earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers reported that the nation's infrastructure needs $2.2 trillion in repairs and upgrades. But if you drive or take public transportation in and around Chicago, you don't need a study to tell you how much has to be done.

Thankfully, there are signs today in Washington that leaders finally understand that Americans need jobs and increasing transportation funding is the right thing to do. There is now talk of quickly passing a two-year transportation bill.

This measure would not be a substitute for the six-year transportation legislation we need, and I will continue to press for passage of this long-term bill. Among other things, the six-year bill includes new strategies and policies unlikely to be included in the two-year bill, and it would better enable planning of large projects. But given the intransigence of the White House and the Senate, even a two-year bill would be a victory, and a step toward addressing the unmet transportation needs of the Chicago region and the country as a whole.

It's important to remember that keeping our infrastructure in good repair is especially important here in Chicago, the nation's transportation hub. A clogged highway is as detrimental to our local economy as a clogged artery is to the health of an individual.

If we want to maintain our leading position, our region needs to fight to ensure America addresses its immense infrastructure challenges in a timely fashion. As northeastern Illinois' only member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I'm committed to leading that fight and to passing a transportation bill that will immediately put people back to work.

As always, I invite your opinions and views. Write me at 6245 S. Archer Ave., Chicago, IL  60638 or call me at 312-886-0481 or 866-822-5701. Or visit