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Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) expressed optimism about the passage of a long-term bill supporting transportation and infrastructure during a virtual symposium hosted by Transport Topics and CQ Roll Call.
The symposium was webcast Oct. 8, one week after President Donald Trump signed a temporary funding measure to avert a federal government shutdown. The stopgap measure funds the government through Dec. 11, and included in the law is a one-year extension of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act that was due to expire Sept. 30.
Cardin explained that, although the FAST Act has been extended with a continuing resolution, Congress still needs to pass a long-term reauthorization. He said transportation projects, especially large-scale ones, depend on reliable, long-term legislative support.
Click to watch interviews with both Sen. Ben Cardin and Rep. Sam Graves
“I’m very optimistic that we can get a transportation or infrastructure bill passed,” Cardin said. “Infrastructure brings us together. We need the predictability of a long-term reauthorization. Transportation projects take more than one year or more than a few months to get done.”
A CSX Transportation inspection train emerges from the Howard Street Tunnel in Baltimore in 2016. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
As an example of a large transportation project, Cardin pointed to the Howard Street Tunnel reconstruction effort. Maryland received a $125 million Infrastructure For Rebuilding America grant in July 2019 to support the project. The Howard Street Tunnel is a freight train route in Baltimore that currently has height restrictions for railcars. The project will raise the vertical clearance of the tunnel, allowing trains to double-stack shipping containers.
“That’s a major long-term project to replace that tunnel to do double stacking,” Cardin said. “All that can’t be done on a continuing resolution. You need to have a long-term commitment to get that done.”
Cardin, who serves on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said Congress will address climate-related considerations in the next reauthorization. He noted transportation issues impact both the environment and the economy. Cardin said Democrats, Republicans and the business community understand the costs of avoiding adaptation to climate-related concerns.
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“We need a win-win,” Cardin said. “We need to improve our transportation, but be respectful of our environment. We very much need to be attentive to it. We need to do that not just because of the direct impact on our environment. It’s also the impact on our economy.”
Cardin, who lives in Baltimore and commutes to Washington, said his trip has been significantly shorter during the pandemic, which has forced many people to work from home.
However, he acknowledged that road and transit systems shouldn’t be neglected when the country emerges from the pandemic.
“The volumes will increase again on our roads,” Cardin said. “We have to make sure that we have the bridge replacements that are necessary. It’s important for safety, but it’s also important for commerce.”
In the early days of the pandemic, supply chain concerns extended to essential goods, protective equipment and testing kits. Cardin said the Defense Production Act, which is designed to speed and expand the supply of materials and services from the country’s industrial base to support national defense, should be relied on more.
“Clearly, COVID-19 has pointed out a real security issue for America on supply chain issues,” Cardin said. “Yes, Congress can do something about this. That’s why we have the Defense Production Act, to make sure that we have the domestic capacity to deal with what is needed in this country to keep America secure and safe. We need to utilize that more aggressively than it’s been done under this administration.”
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