By Greg Sitek
It’s hard to believe that Summer 2011 is nearing its end. Actually it’s difficult to accept this plain, simple recurring fact because as the days shorten and temperatures start to drop in preparation for winter, we have to deal with the fact that we still don’t have a highway bill; that another construction season is slipping away, a season that could have put more than a million people back to work. The Highway Bill extension runs out again in September 2011.
Technically it isn’t the Highway Bill. Federally aided highway construction has existed under a variety of different names for almost a hundred years starting with the Federal-Aid Highway Acts (1916–1987); National Interstate and Defense Highways Act (1956); Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act (1987) ; Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (1991); National Highway Designation Act (1995); Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (1998); Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (2005) with the last one SAFETEA-LU having expired in September 2009. Each rendition of these various acts brought us closer to providing our citizens the type of transportation infrastructure this country needs.
As we approached the expiration of SAFETEA-LU congress and industry had unrolled proposals that not only made sense but also laid down the foundation for a transportation infrastructure that would have carried us forward into the distant future. These proposals addressed not only immediate needs for the repair and modernization of our existing infrastructure but also provided for the continued growth and development of our ever-changing commercial-industrial-manufacturing-transportation needs. Had a solid transportation infrastructure bill been enacted and passed now two years ago the construction industry would not be faced with the level of unemployment numbers it is, a level that will not decrease but rather increase as the “building season” winds down.
In the June 19, 2011 issue of Newsweek ran an article by Bill Clinton titled, It’s Still the Economy, Stupid, Fourteen million Americans remain out of work, a waste of our greatest resource. The 42nd president has more than a dozen ideas on how to attack the jobs crisis. In this article former president Clinton lists 14 ways to put America back to work. Many of his recommendations related directly or indirectly to this industry:
- Speed the Approvals
- Cash for Startups
- Jobs Galore in Energy
- Copy the Empire State Building (Updates and renovations)
- Get the Utilities in on the Action
- State by State Solutions
- Guarantee Loans
- Paint ‘em White (All the roofs in the country as an energy saving measure)
- Deals to Make Things
- Train on the Job
- Teach Skills We Need
- Cut Corporate Taxes
- Enforce Trade Laws
- Analyze the Opportunities
And, I’m adding a 15th item: Pass a Transportation Bill. Actually this could easily be a part of the Clinton’s 14th item, Analyze the Opportunities because this is an opportunity to put more than a million people back to work.
As you look through the list you can see how many of these tie into construction and construction related activities.
Where am I going with this? I’m encouraging you to contact your Washington representatives and by phone or email and telling them to act on the transportation bill when it comes up in September. Support the various organizations that are involved in making the public aware of our national transportation needs.
Read what the American Concrete Pavement Association (ACPA) has to say about our need for a highway bill:
Summertime Underscores Need for Highway Bill Now
The American Concrete Pavement Association is urging voters throughout the transportation community to be unrelenting in urging Congress to enact an adequately funded transportation bill.
“This summer is a pivotal time for our industry to remind our federal elected officials of the importance and urgency of finding solutions to the dire situation the construction industry and our highways are facing,” says Gerald F. Voigt, P.E., President and CEO of the American Concrete Pavement Association.
“This is not the time to slow the pace; instead, we need to continue to urge Congress to do the right thing by making highways and other elements of our surface transportation system a top priority,” he says.
Voigt says this is especially important now for several reasons, including:
§ The nations economy continues to falter, and amid the continuing economic uncertainty, unemployment remains at a critical state in the construction industry. Passage of the highway bill would create and sustain well-paying, long-term jobs for people who want to work and need to work.
§ Summertime brings school recesses, vacation schedules, and other reasons for large groups of people to visit Washington, D.C. This means elected officials are hearing from many special interests, and because of that, we need to ensure that transportation issues do not get lost in the “hue and cry” of other issues.
§ August is traditionally the time when Senators and Representatives return to their home states and districts, and as such, this presents voters with more opportunities to have direct contact with elected officials at town-hall meetings, fundraising events, and other activities.
§ August 10 marks the sixth anniversary of the signing of the most recent highway bill, which since its expiration, has been extended seven times. Extensions, says Voigt, make it difficult, if not impossible, for businesses to invest in the future, and with no clear timeline for the next transportation bill, will continue to jeopardize the economic vitality of companies.
§ Retail fuel prices are rising at an alarming rate, and with widespread speculation that motorists will be paying $5/gallon gasoline, motorists can scarcely afford to waste fuel because of the inefficiency and disrepair of our nation’s highways.
Take a Stand “Talk to your neighbors, your colleagues, your employees and everyone you know who has the power of the vote, and urge them to take a stand, and to tell their elected officials that they demand unselfish and discerning leadership, and the courage to do what is right for this country,” Voigt says. “Tell them to make the tough call by finding viable, sustainable solutions to find and invest the funds to repair and preserve the nation’s highways.
Voigt adds that every member of the transportation community has the power of the vote, as well as the right to hold elected officials accountable for their actions & and inaction.
“Our ability to move people and goods is critical to this nation,” Voigt says. “Our federal government has underinvested in our nation’s transportation infrastructure for years, and as a result, we are falling further behind in the global marketplace. China, India, and other developing nations understand the value of infrastructure development and the critical link between infrastructure, commerce, personal mobility, and safety. The question we should all be asking is, “Why are those issues any less important in the United States than in other nations?”
“It is disingenuous for anyone to suggest that we can solve this problem without increasing funding. Accounting for inflation, we invest less in our infrastructure today than we did in 1975. This is unacceptable, and for every day we put off a solution, we burden our children and those who come after us,” Voigt says.
“Together, we need to make this the summer of action, and not just another season of inaction,” Voigt says.
This is your infrastructure and you have an investment in it, a serious investment. Our representatives in Washington are responsible to us for protecting these investments and managing them so that we can realize a reasonable ROI. Let’s make them accountable.
This article appeared as the editorial in the August 2011 issues of the ACP magazines: California Builder & Engineer, Construction, Construction Digest, Construction News, Constructioneer, Dixie Contractor, Michigan Contractor & Builder, Midwest Contractor, New England Construction, Pacific Builder & Engineer, Rocky Mountain Construction, Texas Contractor, Western Builder.