February 7, 2019 / 6:11 PM / 10 days ago

State, city leaders press Congress on U.S. infrastructure needs

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers heard pleas from state and local officials on Thursday to take urgent action to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and address an estimated $2 trillion in needs over the next decade.

FILE PHOTO: Highway traffic travels into Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

The hearing by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was held two days after President Donald Trump reiterated an infrastructure call in his State of the Union speech but stopped short of offering specifics.

“Do something. Come up with a plan,” said Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, who noted the nation’s governors have made investing in infrastructure a top priority this year. He called on the federal government to give states “maximum flexibility.”

Democrat Walz campaigned on hiking state gasoline taxes to fix roads. He said Minnesota will need to spend about $20 billion over the next 20 years on state highways that are in “rough shape.”

U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio, who chairs the Transportation Committee, said Congress had to act. “Let me be clear that the question is not whether we will need to invest but when we will invest,” DeFazio said. “Congress must act to provide significant federal dollars to invest in U.S. infrastructure.”

Trump vowed as a presidential candidate to win $1 trillion in infrastructure improvements over a decade but did not propose a plan until 13 months in to his term. That plan, which called for using $200 billion in federal funds to try to win $1.5 trillion in improvements largely funded by states, cities and the private sector, was roundly dismissed.

The top Republican on the panel, Representative Sam Graves, said it was encouraging Trump identified infrastructure as a priority. Republicans and Democrats “want to get something done,” he said. “We can’t waste this opportunity.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told lawmakers Congress should allow airports to collect additional passenger taxes to pay for improvements, expand direct federal funding and facilitate “the arrival of scooters, boring tunnels, and bringing electric and autonomous vehicles to our streets.”

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood testified the private sector wants to take part.

“There is a lot of money waiting to be invested. What the investors want is a signal from Congress that you’re serious about infrastructure, that you’re going to put your share in,” LaHood said.

Some lawmakers like Graves favor a tax on vehicle miles that would raise new revenue by ensuring that electric vehicles also pay for highway repairs, since they do not pay gasoline taxes.

Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis

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