The transportation investments in the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA) are an unheralded success story and have helped prevent thousands of layoffs by transportation firms and their suppliers, a top Pennsylvania construction executive told a congressional panel on Dec. 10. But absent action on a multi-year highway/transit program bill or some other infusion of transportation infrastructure investment in the short term, a market retraction is looming as early as 2011.
Those were core messages in the testimony of James Van Buren, vice president and chief operating officer of New Enterprise, Stone & Lime Company, a vertically integrated construction materials supplier, highway contractor, and traffic safety products and service provider. He represented the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) at a House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee hearing on ARRA implementation.
“The transportation components of the recovery act are a true success story,” Van Buren said. “The economic downturn has had a substantial adverse impact on our company and the entire industry. Our sales dropped significantly from 2007 to 2008. Without the recovery act’s transportation investments, our markets would have continued their freefall this year.” He said half of all ARRA project bids won by his company were performed in 2009 with the balance scheduled for completion in 2010.
Van Buren noted that even with the recovery act, the industry as a whole continues to suffer from the recession and is experiencing disproportionate levels of unemployment. “That reality is not an indictment of the recovery act, but rather illustrates how much worse our situation could have been.”
Of the $21 billion in recover act funds obligated through November, Van Buren said $14 billion had been paid for projects under construction. That figure represented two-thirds of the available funds—direct economic activity-generating and employment-supporting resources. In Pennsylvania, 95 percent of the commonwealth’s ARRA highway funds have been obligated, and of that amount, more than 19 percent of the work has been completed, he told the committee.
Van Buren called on Congress to focus on a long-term solution for the nation’s growing transportation challenges. “Clearly, the robust, six-year investment levels proposed by the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee would be ideal to stabilize and grow the U.S. transportation construction market,” he said. “If, however, that is not attainable, an alternative measure that significantly boosts infrastructure investment in the short-term and retains the integrity of the Highway Trust Fund can also provide a critical economic boost.”