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Higgins unveils $1.26 trillion infrastructure bill for U.S. roads, bridges, water systems

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Saying that the nation's infrastructure has been neglected for too long, while the U.S. has spent billions fixing roads and bridges in overseas locations including Iraq and Afghanistan, Congressman Brian Higgins has introduced a trillion-dollar proposal to fix domestic roads, bridges and waterways over the next five years.

Higgins stood just off Fuhrmann Boulevard in Buffalo's Outer Harbor, praising the $65 million investment to improve the roadway. A short distance away, vehicles traveled atop the Skyway, one of many local structures that Higgins says have been badly neglected over many years.

He cited a "report card" from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which earlier this year gave the nation's infrastructure a D+ grade, then declared that failing is no longer an option.

"Eighty-one bridges in Erie County and 21 in Niagara County are deemed to be structurally deficient, including the Skyway," Higgins said.  "And 228 bridges in Erie and 55 in Niagara are classified as functionally obsolete, including the Skyway."

The most recent surface transportation bill in Washington, Higgins stated, included $41 billion per year for highways. That's only a third of what the Department of Transportation estimates would be needed to complete repairs.

While spending $1.26 trillion over the next five years might seem steep to some, Higgins says the nation is already losing money - and jobs - as the result of inadequate infrastructure that compromises domestic productivity. 

"The American Society of Civil Engineers projects the United States will lose nearly four trillion dollars in economic growth by 2025, and 18 trillion dollars between 2016 and 2040, averaging over 700 billion dollars in losses for each year," the congressman said. 

Before taking the oath of office and becoming president in January, Donald Trump had spoken of a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill. The idea won bipartisan support from leaders including Higgins and Senator Charles Schumer.

The Senate Minority Leader, in previous comments, stated that raw materials used for projects under this ambitious program should be domestically produced. 

Higgins' proposed act would require the guarantee of prevailing wages, a strong encouragement to hire veterans and assurances that a portion of grants are offered to women- and minority-owned businesses.

Some have raised concerns about whether Trump's version of an infrastructure overhaul might compromise environmental regulations and protections. Higgins was asked if his bill addresses those concerns.

"The president doesn't have a bill yet. He's just talked about it," he replied. "The bottom line is Congress is a co-equal branch of government, and whatever is approved will be approved by Congress. I'm confident that the bill that Congress approves will be more in line with my bill than what the president is talking about."

Fixing the nation's infrastructure, Higgins added, is a non-partisan issue. He envisions it as an American issue but one that has been ignored while the U.S. has spent large sums of money for infrastructures overseas.

"The United States has spent billions rebuilding the roads and bridges of both Afghanistan and Iraq," he said. "The time is now for nation building here at home."

Higgins was asked if the Skyway would be among his priorities if his bill were passed. Many times over the past several years, he has called for its removal.

"We'll continue to promote the projects we believe will help Buffalo realize its full potential as a great waterfront city," he replied.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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