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Opinion

The highway to jobs – via better infrastructure

As Obama and Congress talk jobs, here's an appeal from the US Chamber of Commerce: Invest heavily in roads, air transport, and other infrastructure. The economy and jobs depend on it. Adopt innovative financing, including an infrastructure bank to leverage private investment.

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Next, America should expand energy infrastructure to support growing needs. A great example is the Keystone XL pipeline to connect Canadian oil sands with Texas refineries. The sooner the project is approved and construction begins, the sooner the US can rake in the benefits of added investment and government revenues, job creation, and more resources to fuel energy needs and keep costs down for businesses and consumers.

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Likewise, the US can’t let a needlessly cumbersome permitting process stand in the way of infrastructure development. The administration should limit environmental reviews to six months and forgo reviews when no significant environmental impact is expected. Duplicative reviews by state and federal governments should be prevented and, when multiple agencies are involved, a lead agency should be appointed to coordinate actions and move things along. Accelerating the permitting process would quickly mobilize construction and hiring from one end of the country to the other.

In this era of tight government budgets, America must adopt innovative financing approaches and spur on public-private partnerships. A national infrastructure bank must be a part of a long-term investment strategy. An initial government investment of $10 billion could leverage up to $600 billion in private funds.
But regulatory impediments must also be removed. They take an estimated $250 billion in global capital out of play. If that private capital were invested in infrastructure projects, it could create 1.9 million jobs over 10 years and spur untold economic growth.

As for public investments, sooner or later we’ll have to face the fact that the federal fuel tax has not been raised 1 cent in 17 years. The country needs modest, phased-in increase.

Comprehensively restoring America’s infrastructure and revitalizing the economy are monumental tasks. Fortunately, we are the same nation that built our world-class system in the first place. If anyone is up to the challenge, we are.
Thomas J. Donohue is president and chief executive officer of the US Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business federation.

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