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Champions of Change: Investing in Infrastructure for a More Competitive Economy

During National Transportation Week, members of the transportation industry participated in a roundtable at the White House to discuss how investments in infrastructure enable our economy to be more competitive.

Editor’s Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and help our country rise to the many challenges of the 21st century.

Jo Ellen Sines Recently I was honored to join the “Champions of Change” discussion at the White House during National Transportation Week.  We were asked to focus on transportation workforce issues, a very timely topic, and I am pleased to have this opportunity to provide further thoughts.

I am proud to be part of the transportation construction industry because we put people to work, improve the nation’s quality of life and enable our economy to be more competitive.

Several participants in the White House meeting mentioned the importance of reauthorizing the federal surface transportation and aviation programs.  If we really want to put Americans to work, there is no better way than by passing long-term, well-funded versions of these important measures.  The long-term certainty of federal transportation investment will give the industry a much clearer view of our future market opportunities.  That will enable us to make additional investments in human capital, as well as equipment and supplies that will put even more Americans to work.

Reauthorization of the federal highway and transit programs has been overdue since September of 2009.  Only a series of short-term extensions has kept funds flowing to the states.  The current interim measure expires September 30, 2011. 

As was pointed out during the discussion, federal transportation legislation is traditionally bipartisan.  With unemployment in our industry topping 20 percent in many regions of the country, this is the time for our elected leaders to work together on this issue.  This bill should maintain - or preferably increase - current levels of funding, provide strong federal leadership for national transportation priorities, protect current assets and expand system capacity, retain the user fee principle for federal highway and transit financing, and expedite the process of transportation project review and approval.

I am active in the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA).  During the recent meeting, I shared some of the promotional materials that the association has produced for young people considering a career in transportation design and construction.  We talk about the great transportation improvement projects that someone can help design and build, which will be long-lasting and make a difference in the lives of Americans.  However, many are not aware that working in our industry provides a chance to build leadership skills, work with cutting edge technology, and earn very favorable wages.  This is the case for industry professionals at a variety of education levels.

The transportation construction industry is ready to continue building the nation’s infrastructure and our workforce.  We just need the investment and resources to do so. 

Thank you to the White House and U.S. Department of Transportation for providing this opportunity to share the perspective of our industry.

Jo Ellen Sines is the VP of Project Development at Corman Construction, Inc and the past Chair of the Maryland Transportation Builders and Materials Association.