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You can’t have a first-rate state with second-class infrastructure

| 05 Apr 2021 | 06:36

Editor’s note: The following statement was made April 1 by U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) at the Hackensack River bridge, which is rated “structurally deficient.”

I was in this exact spot almost four years ago now, calling for investment to fix this bridge behind me. Since then, we passed a bill in the House to fix it and it sat untouched in the Senate. I also introduced bipartisan legislation the Congress before and it sat.

We’ve had a lot of success clawing dollars back to our district from Washington to help our towns, our first responders, and our families – in fact, we are up 108 percent. But, here we are. Despite the multiple bills I’ve sponsored and passed in the House, the bipartisan work we’ve done in the Problem Solvers Caucus and beyond, the Washington swamp and partisan gridlock has swallowed up progress on fixing our nation’s infrastructure time and again.

The bottom line: We can’t afford to wait any longer. We can’t afford four more years of crumbling bridges, roads, and tunnels, lead-filled pipes, and failed transportation. And that’s why I’m here today – because I’m confident that, working together in a bipartisan way, we will, once and for all, get an infrastructure bill signed into law. We must get this done. We simply have no other choice.

Yesterday, the President outlined a critical roadmap for investment in roads, bridges, rail, and broadband — as I said, all things we must address here in Jersey. Why? Because it’s not just this bridge behind me that needs help. A third of our bridges in New Jersey need repairs; we have the third worst roads in the nation, despite some of the highest taxes; and our rail system was number one in delays last year. The rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey is more than 110 years old and crumbling.

As you can see with your own eyes, the bridge right behind us needs help. It is considered “structurally deficient,” meaning that one or more of the key bridge elements — things like the deck, superstructure, or substructure — is considered to be in “poor” or worse condition. You can see the rebar, rust, and crumbling cement. We literally have teams going around our highways testing for crumbling cement, so it doesn’t fall and kill someone. Unfortunately, it’s happened.

That isn’t safe for our residents.

The bridge was constructed in 1931 and pre-dates FDR’s election to the White House. Just think about that for a second: the bridge predates FDR, who 95% of us have only read about in the history books. Clearly, this bridge needs to be put into the history books as well. In the President’s proposal, there’s $115 billion for highways, roads, and bridges — which could help us here.

According to a public poll from last year, 80% of Americans want us to invest in our infrastructure and accelerate our economic recovery post the COVID-19 pandemic. To me, and many of my Democratic and Republican colleagues in the House and Senate, and for local leaders here at home, there are very few issues facing our nation more bipartisan than investing in our infrastructure.

When it comes to this sort of investment, our competitors on the international stage know of its importance and they’re beating us. Europe spends almost double what we currently do as a portion of GDP, and China spends three times as much. In fact, China spends more than $3 trillion dollars a year on infrastructure outside of China. When it comes to infrastructure, they are eating our lunch. Our infrastructure is rated the thirteenth best in the world. Thirteenth. That’s unacceptable for the greatest country in the world. We should be number one.

And this bridge shows why we need it. This Route 4 bridge is a key connector between Hackensack and Teaneck and the rest of Bergen County, with more than 100,000 vehicles passing over the Teaneck Road overpass every day. So, during normal times, it affects our economy and commutes – big time.

It’s just one of the 502 bridges in New Jersey that are rated as structurally deficient, not to mention all our pot-hole packed roads. That’s right: literally hundreds and hundreds of bridges in Jersey.

Our nation’s infrastructure is not doing much better. The American Society of Civil Engineers came out with their annual report card grading our country’s infrastructure recently, and they gave our nation’s transit a D-minus. Our roads and bridges got a D too. That’s just pathetic.

Not only does infrastructure investment create thousands good-paying jobs for construction workers, engineers, and others directly involved in those projects — and, mind you, we have the best labor trades in America right here, ready to build these projects.

Higher quality infrastructure will help the economy in the short-and-long term, and help it operate more efficiently: cars and trucks will spend less time idling in traffic, commuters and products will be able to get to work faster and home to tuck in their kids, businesses and schools will have the internet access they need, and companies and jobs will come here, stay here, and grow here.

Studies show that public investment in infrastructure also leads to productivity growth in the private sector. According to the Congressional Budget Office, a single dollar in infrastructure can have as much as a $2.50 impact on our GDP. Talk about a return on investment.

Unfortunately, it’s not only the bridges that need help. It’s also the rails, tunnels, dams, roads, pipes, broadband, and more.

Our state is second-in-the-nation, percentage-wise, of commuters who rely on public transit; yet, NJ Transit had more train breakdowns last year than any other commuter railroad in America.

And even when trains aren’t broken down, we have the longstanding issues of the NJ Transit and Amtrak trains that ride underneath the Hudson every day, which is why all of us in the New Jersey delegation have been focused on pushing the Gateway Project forward. Right now, there are two tubes with one rail going in and one going out. So, we can only get twenty-four trains in and out of New York City in an hour – and less than half that on weekends. That’s outrageous and no way to run an economy.

If one of those tunnels were to collapse, God forbid, it would have a devastating impact on our economy, the region, and the entire country. One fifth of the American economy depends on those tunnels transporting trains between D.C., New York, and Boston. If that route shuts down, the U.S. economy loses $100 million per day — or $36.5 billion per year.

Then there are issues like the lead in our water pipes that harm our families and harm our children when they’re at school. We also know not nearly enough residents have basic broadband connectivity in Northwestern New Jersey, over in Sussex in Warren Counties in our District.

We also have to look at it this way: we are increasingly having trouble recruiting people and businesses to come to and stay in New Jersey because of our infrastructure, and families are avoiding our state because they want to get home at night. We are now the number one out-migration state in the country and businesses of all sizes tell me the same thing: it’s because of our high taxes and crumbling infrastructure. I hear it all the time from CEOs and from would-be constituents. We can’t entice Twenty-First Century companies to set up shop and grow or stay here in New Jersey with infrastructure from the 1900s that’s been patched and repaired for decades.

The bottom line: you can’t have a first-rate state with second-class infrastructure.

I’ve already begun these conversations with both Republicans and Democrats at the table, so that we can get a deal done.

Infrastructure is one of the Problem Solvers Caucus top priority – and we have a working group hard at work on finding a bipartisan deal, not just in the House, but in the Senate.

It’s time we get this done.

In the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower recognized the infrastructure investments we needed to make to grow our economy and defeat the Soviet Union and communism. Here in 2021, we face a similar challenge, now from China — so, we need to bring our nation’s infrastructure into the Twenty-first Century to ensure that we remain the greatest country in the world, and that our best days will always be ahead of us. Let’s get to work!

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5)

Washington, D.C.