Across New England, there were 1,865 bridges rated by the federal government in 2015 as structurally deficient. That’s roughly 10.5 percent of the bridges in our region. Over 5,100 bridges were rated as functionally obsolete. According to the most recent Federal Highway Administration data, from 1995 to 2014, there were an additional 1.24 million New England drivers on our roads, and vehicle-miles travelled (VMT) per year jumped from 112.4 billion to 130.75 billion VMT in that same 20 year period. Our stressed surface transportation infrastructure is witnessing traffic usage at levels far beyond those originally anticipated by their planners and designers.
According to the World Economic Forum’s latest global competitiveness index for 2015-2016, the U.S. ranks 11th in its quality of overall infrastructure and 14th in terms of its roadways. In terms of port infrastructure, the U.S. tied with the United Kingdom and Spain in 10th, and for railroad infrastructure came in 15th, between Luxembourg and China. McKinsey Global Institute said in a June 2016 report that while the world pumps in some $2.5 trillion for infrastructure spending, it simply isn’t enough. Indeed, McKinsey says that the nations of the world – and particularly those with emerging economies – will need to invest an average of $3.3 trillion per year on infrastructure through the year 2030 just to keep up with expected rates of growth. McKinsey noted that many G20 nations slowed their infrastructure investment since the financial crisis, including the United States.
In New England, transportation-related delays add up to significant economic costs. With business leaders continually citing the quality of transportation infrastructure—and the ability to move both goods and people—as key factors in their location decisions, without consistent quality upgrades New England’s commercial areas become less and less competitive every year.
New England’s current transportation system is highly road-dependent and requires long commutes for many residents. Further, limited availability of rail service restricts commuting options. Without investment in a transportation infrastructure to facilitate workforce mobility and business activities, the region will continue to face challenges competing economically with other parts of the country and the world.
Our Transportation Committee—chaired by Steve Silveira of ML Strategies– has worked to provide a cohesive New England message on transportation funding and legislation before Congress. The NEC staff contact for the committee is Peter Phipps.
Advocacy for Highway Infrastructure
The Council has long-supported efforts by Congress to enact multi-year legislative approaches meant to reauthorize our nation’s surface transportation programs. Most recently, Representatives and Senators had spent years passing short-term or stop-gap measures that allowed the continuation of federal highway programs, but provided little opportunity for transportation leaders to plan for long-term projects. Indeed, the 2012 law MAP-21, or the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, only covered two years and itself was subject to short term extensions.
The Council never gave-up the belief that Congress could present a long-term solution to America’s surface transportation needs. In early 2015, the Council weighed-in with opinion pieces espousing a long-term solution to New England’s transportation infrastructure concerns.
The Council maintained steady support for passage of a multi-year bill, meeting with Capitol Hill offices throughout the year to ensure the Council’s voice was heard. As both the Senate and the House passed long-term bills, the Council maintained that effort sending a letter of support to Senators and Representatives on the surface transportation conference committee and urging that they include a House-passed provision that would help satisfy the funding needs for a long-term bill.
The Council was pleased that in December in 2015, Congress passed and the President signed a multi-year bill that provided the funds necessary to address our region’s infrastructure needs. This new law, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, will address America’s – and New England’s – surface transportation needs through the rest of this decade.
Logan Airport Customs Wait Times
With some 5 million travelers passing through Boston’s Logan International Airport annually coupled with increased direct international flights, passenger delays are expected. However The New England Council was made aware in mid-2015 that the wait period for passengers to engage with customs officials at Logan Airport had grown to between 90 minutes and 3 hours. When added to the upwards of 60 minutes visitors faced to retrieve their luggage and provide declaration cards to Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officials, the Council became concerned for the economic viability of the New England region as a destination of choice for business and tourism travel.
In a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson, The Council expressed the critical need for DHS and CBP to keep pace with the needs of our region and allow a smoother and quicker traveling experience for international passengers through an investment in manpower and technology. In its response to the Council, the CBP acknowledged the lengthy waits, and indicated they would take steps to evaluate and mitigate this issue.