President Dwight Eisenhower’s biggest contribution to American — and global — history came roughly nine years before he ever took residency in the White House.

President Dwight Eisenhower’s biggest contribution to American — and global — history came roughly nine years before he ever took residency in the White House.

As the General for the U.S. Army, Eisenhower orchestrated the successful invasion of allied troops along the northern coast of France. His gains on D-Day began Germany’s retreat east through Europe and permanently changed the course of World War II.

But, as the story goes, Eisenhower picked up more from his time in Europe than just strategic military tactics. It was in Germany where he was exposed to one of the world’s first limited-access, high speed highway systems. Eisenhower took that memory with him through the war and eventually all the way to the Oval Office.

Knowing an efficient, interconnected system of roads would be critical in future military conflict, President Eisenhower helped make good on a promise Congress had made 12 years prior, initiating construction of 41,000-mile network of highways that would span the continent and link each of the United States of America.

Today, that highway system remains critical to our national defense, economic vitality, and social mobility. But America’s transportation network has evolved into something so much more. And a population that is rapidly growing and constantly on the move demands that this system be modernized, rethought, and redesigned for the 21st century.

Forecasts predict that the U.S. population will grow from 319 million in 2014 to 400 million by 2051. The movement of freight is expected to increase by 40 percent over the next 30 years. And air travel is expected to increase from 750 million passengers per year to close to a billion annually by the end of the next decade.

President Trump made a promise to the American people that he would reassert America’s greatness. From my perspective as a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Chairman of the panel on Highways and Transit, that means making America competitive for the challenges we face in a crowded global marketplace. It means giving businesses and individuals every possible advantage to prosper and succeed. And it means investing in infrastructure that is ready for the 21st century.

So how do we get there? The T&I Committee held its first hearing of the year to answer that question on Wednesday. We heard from a number of CEOs from well-known companies such as FedEx and Cargill to learn what we need to do to keep America competitive in a rapidly changing world economy.

It’s more than just rebuilding our roads and filling potholes — although these are critical first steps.

In the Highway Subcommittee, we want to build off the long-term Highway Bill we passed in 2015, emphasizing the opportunities technology offers on roads across America, but also recognizing how it will change the way we look at transportation in this country.

Congress has a responsibility to lay the groundwork for infrastructure that encourages innovation and brings us to the next revolution in transportation – driverless cars, drones, and other transportation technologies of the future. Regulations must be designed to ensure the safety of the public, but also to allow the private sector to unleash the ingenuity needed to get us to this point.

This is the agenda of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and it’s why I worked hard to return to that panel in the 115th Congress. Now, with the new President also focused on strengthening our infrastructure, we have a unique opportunity to build upon our Committee’s record of bipartisan accomplishments.

The Federal government has a vital, constitutional duty to provide for and guide investment in our infrastructure, ensuring the connectivity of the American people and supporting a strong, competitive economy. Maintaining that infrastructure – and leading the conversations on where we must go in the future – is something the federal government must do. And must do well. We simply can’t afford anything less.

Sam Graves is the Congressional representative for Northeast Missouri. He is a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Chariman of the panel on Highways and Transit. He is from Tarkio, Mo.