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Delaware, Pa. senators highlight looming infrastructure fight [video]

 Delaware's Senators Carper and Coons use water bottles to demonstrate the challenge facing transportation funding in Congress. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Delaware's Senators Carper and Coons use water bottles to demonstrate the challenge facing transportation funding in Congress. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

The need for transportation infrastructure improvements nationwide may not be debated, but how to fund it definitely is.

For decades, Congress approved transportation funding every six years. But over the past five years, instead of a long-term funding bill, their have been a dozen short-term measures approved for transportation infrastructure.

That’s not a smart way to operate, according to Delaware Sen. Tom Carper. “That’s a stupid way to build roads, highways, bridges and transportation systems. It’s so inefficient.”

Carper’s fellow Democrat, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey traveled to Washington via Amtrak’s Wilmington station Monday afternoon. He said Congress needs to ensure the safety of train travel as they debate long-term infrastructure funding. 

“We should not put Amtrak in the weeks and months ahead in the position of choosing between safety measures like Positive Train Control, and fixing and repairing crumbling bridges or infrastructure,” Casey said.

Last week, Republicans in the U.S. House blocked a move to increase Amtrak funding. That increase would have included more than $500 million for the Northeast Corridor. 

“I cannot tell you how frustrating it is for us as members of the Congress to stand before  you and say that our national infrastructure is getting a failing grade,” said Sen. Chris Coons. “A lot of what is failing our national infrastructure is Congress.”

Water bottle object lesson

Earlier Monday, Senator Carper enlisted Sen. Chris Coons to demonstrate the funding situation using water bottles. Using an empty water bottle to represent the current federal transportation fund, Carper asked Coons to pour in a little refill from his bottle representing the general fund. “Eventually, the [general fund] runs out, too,” Carper said.

That’s when the nation turns to another water bottle: money borrowed from foreign sources like China. That gives China an upper hand in negotiations with the U.S. in areas like trade disputes or actions in the S. China Sea. “We got to be smarter than that,” Carper said. 

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