August 14, 2012
Innovative thinking can fund our infrastructure
By Ellen van der Horst
Just as innovation leads to improvements in the way we do business, innovative thinking can also lead to improvements in the way we fund infrastructure. And the need for innovative thinking is more important now than ever.
Investment in transportation infrastructure is critical to the growth of our economy. It impacts the very core of our economic competitiveness.
Businesses depend on a transportation network that is safe, reliable and cost-effective. As congestion increases, the movement of product and people slows, adding significantly to the cost of doing business and crippling our ability to compete.
That is why the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber has been vocal in its support for rebuilding the Brent Spence Bridge and building a new $60 million interchange at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive. Both projects are essential to the effectiveness of our regional transportation system. They must be funded now. But there is no money, and the reasons are clear. A sputtering economy, high fuel prices, inflation and more fuel-efficient vehicles make for fewer dollars to fund transportation.
Some say that Washington will fund our rails, roads and bridges, but that's wishful thinking. In fact, Washington has struggled to fund a long-term transportation bill at a level adequate to meet our increasing transportation infrastructure needs. To its credit, a bill was passed in June, but the funding remains at 2005 levels.
Earlier this month, the Federal Highway Administration announced a $3.3 million Brent Spence Bridge grant. While the sum may seem hefty, it covers roughly one-tenth of one percent of the $2.6 billion price tag.
Transportation dollars are in short supply in Ohio as well. In fact, the state has a $1.6 billion shortfall in the funds needed to complete existing major projects.
For these reasons, the chamber supports aggressive exploration of innovative sources of funding. We need to examine new programs and methods of funding all transportation infrastructure projects.
The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is currently examining strategies to unlock new sources of revenue to fund its growing list of projects, and some have already yielded results. ODOT recently reported that efforts to create greater operational efficiencies within the agency translated into an additional $400 million for new construction projects.
Other possible sources of new revenue being explored include leasing rest stops, leasing or bonding against the Ohio Turnpike, and combining project design, construction and financing in the same package to reduce costs and spread payments over time.
The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber believes all of these ideas must be fully explored - along with other types of public-private partnerships - to determine if they can help keep our transportation system in top form.
The Cincinnati region is one of the most dynamic economic regions in the nation. We are the literal crossroads of the country, but also the crossroads of innovation, manufacturing, marketing and other professional services. Even as we increasingly link our homes and businesses to the world through technology, we must also preserve our high-quality physical connections.
Embracing such innovative efforts will set our state and region apart as a place where ideas, people and businesses come together to succeed and prosper.
Ellen van der Horst is president and CEO of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.