Four Democratic presidential candidates discussed U.S. infrastructure challenges at a recent campaign forum billed as the first-ever to focus on the issue.
Hosted by United for Infrastructure, a nonprofit bipartisan coalition, the forum was an opportunity for candidates to address an issue that 90% of swing state voters see as a top priority for elected officials. Participants included former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and businessman Tom Steyer.
At the onset of the ‘Moving America Forward’ forum, moderator Jerry Seib conveyed some harsh facts about the state of U.S. infrastructure: one of every five miles of roadway that qualifies for federal aid is in poor condition; four of every 10 bridges, approximately 235,000, are in need of structural repair, rehabilitation or replacement; and 47,000 bridges are classified as structurally deficient.
ROADS & BRIDGES. All candidates agreed that the nation needs to invest more to repair aging roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, as well as building modern projects, but spoke more cautiously around the subject of whether to raise the federal gas tax for the first time since 1993 in order to fix them. “We’re not going to be able to raise the gas tax, we might be able to index it down the line,” said Vice President Biden. Stating that, “we are going to have to graduate from the gas tax because we are going to have to graduate from gas,” Buttigieg said he would consider a vehicle miles traveled user fee, provided individual privacy is protected.
RAIL. All four candidates said they support more commuter and high-speed rail investment to reduce highway traffic. And all see high-speed and light rail as part of a climate-change solution. Biden’s $1.3 trillion infrastructure plan, he said, includes high-speed rail in the corridors identified as part of the Obama-era American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
WATER. The candidates agreed that other infrastructure projects like clean water, water use in the Western United States and resiliency in flood or wildfire-prone areas required federal as well as local investment.
AIRPORTS. For investment in airport infrastructure, Biden said he favors raising the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) and Klobuchar also said she “would be open” to hiking the PFC.
JOBS. All of the candidates are committed to creating millions of good-paying jobs as part of their infrastructure initiatives, with an emphasis on paying those workers prevailing wages. According to Steyer, a massive overhaul of the nation’s infrastructure would create the most union jobs since 1945.