Road congestion wastes 1.9 billion gallons of gas, says US Treasury Department.

With federal transportation funding set to expire March 31, House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica has introduced a three-month extension of the highway and transit program. If adopted by Congress, this would be the ninth extension of SAFETEA-LU, which first expired in September of 2009. Hearing that House Republicans are not prepared to take up a bipartisan transportation bill (approved overwhelmingly by the Senate with a vote of 74 to 22) reminds us of that old elementary school report card category, “Works and Plays Well with Others.” If Sister Mary Ignatius were grading, Congress would definitely get an “F” and would be in detention cleaning chalkboard erasers for a month. CLICK HERE to send a note to Congress telling them to pass the transportation bill!

Today’s epic congressional gridlock has potentially disastrous impacts on the well-being of our entire country. With the Highway Trust Fund, the main source of transportation funding, projected to run out of money possibly before year’s end, Congress is under pressure to find new sources of funding both for the extension and for long-range funding. Without any stability or certainty in funding, critical transportation projects can’t begin and projects already underway face shutdowns. In an industry with over 40% unemployment and the literal underpinnings of the economy crumbling through lack of infrastructure investment, it is unconscionable that Congress can’t manage substance over stubbornness.

Clearly, the decisions are difficult, the math is hard, and the problems are much more complicated than depicted in the sound bites featured on the news. However, forgotten with all the finger-pointing, petty squabbles and imagined affronts in an election year is a constituency that views our elected leadership less like an august body and more like a wild schoolyard game of “red rover.” With that in mind, perhaps a remedial course in the social arts of the playground is in order:

“Share everything, play fair, don’t hit people, clean up your own mess, don’t take things that aren’t yours, say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.”

Not to put too fine a point on the whole “don’t take what isn’t yours,” the Treasury Department has released a report indicating that traffic congestion costs drivers more than $100 billion annually in wasted fuel and lost time. And poor conditions of roads cost the average motorist who regularly drives in cities more than $400 annually in additional vehicle maintenance. The average American family spends more than $7,600 annually on transportation – more than it spends on food and twice what it spends on out-of-pocket health care costs, according to the report. Perhaps most damning, is that America invests less in transportation infrastructure than other countries.

An annual investment of $85 billion over the next 20 years would be required, according to the Department of Transportation, “to bring existing highways and bridges into a state of good repair.” Right now lawmakers differ on how to pay for an extension, and the length of time a new bill should cover. Critical issues, but not insurmountable. Should an agreement be reached, federal leadership should be content in knowing they did the right thing for thepeople they represent. No taunting, no tantrums, no boasting, no bragging. Remember, everyone gets to share in the win because everyone had a hand in making the mess.

Investment in infrastructure – federal funding for road, bridge, public transportation – can sustain and create jobs and economic activity in the short-term, improve America’s export growth opportunities, and enhance our global competitiveness. Even better than money, program reforms like the “Breaking Down Barriers Act” would make the dollars stretch even further by reducing the time it takes transportation projects to get from start to finish, encouraging public-private partnerships and increasing accountability. The time is now to pass not only the short term extension, but a fully-funded, long-term, comprehensive plan.

All political leaders, Republican and Democrat, House, Senate and the Administration, have agreed that a multi- year surface transportation bill is important for job creation and economic recovery. See, those early life lessons still ring true. No matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.