Highway Trust Fund Bill At Risk?

For months now we’ve been told that transportation infrastructure was critical to the future growth of this country. We were told that we would have a transportation infrastructure stimulus package that would get us moving towards a more comprehensive transportation infrastructure system. We were also led to believe that the reauthorization of the current Highway Trust Fund bill, SAFETEA-LU, was important and critical to resolving some of our economic issues, and we could expect congressional action on it this year.

Earlier this week, Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, announced that on Thursday the committee would be releasing a draft of the proposed new Highway Trust Fund bill.


Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced on Wednesday, he and President Obama had come up with a plan to fund the almost bankrupt Highway Trust Fund and extend the bill for 18 months. Their plan is to throw $13 to $18 billion into the fund to carry it for the next 18 months. The rationalization is that the committee shouldn’t rush into this new bill and should carefully consider its options.

LaHood’s blog, “Welcome to the Fast Lane” starts off with this as Thursday’s healine: “Let’s face reality on the Highway Trust Fund, not rush comprehensive legislation” and goes on to say:

“Yesterday and today, I briefed members of Congress on the Highway Trust Fund situation and proposed an immediate 18-month highway reauthorization that will replenish the Fund.

“This is an unusual step, I know. But, with the Fund likely to run out of money by late August, it’s a little too late to worry about business as usual.

“Beyond keeping the Highway Trust Fund solvent, an immediate 18-month reauthorization provides Congress the time it needs to fully deliberate the direction of America’s transportation priorities. That’s the kind of thoughtful decision-making America deserves.

“Passing transportation legislation in Congress is a complicated process. How the Highway Trust Fund went south? Not so complicated.

“Here’s how it works…

“Highways are built, repaired, and maintained with payments from the Highway Trust Fund. The Fund is replenished by revenue collected from motor fuel taxes when Americans buy gas. When Fund spending in a given period is more than the gas tax collected in the same period, the Fund declines. When the decline persists over months or years, the Fund runs out of money and limits the ability of the Federal government to help states.

“As the chart below shows, even in years of relative economic security and gas-price stability, the Highway Trust Fund ended the fiscal year with less money than it started.

“Roadwork is not a simple undertaking. Our road-building and road-maintaining commitments must be planned years and years ahead. But, when times are uncertain, Americans are making gas-pump decisions month-to-month, some even day-to-day.

“I hope you can see the mismatch that can lead to. In years of combined economic insecurity and gas-price volatility, like 2008, people buy less gas and the Fund’s revenue source drops off.

“You can see from the chart above where that led us in 2008. Congress had to kick in an extra $8 billion to the Fund.

“You can also see where it has brought us so far in 2009. The Fund is likely to run out of money once again, and soon. Expenditures will stop; states will be in danger of losing the vital transportation funding they need and expect; projects will shut down; jobs will be lost.

“That’s the road we’re on right now. Once again, the Highway Trust Fund will need a massive cash infusion.

“Can we really go through this every year? Is that really the best this Nation can do?

“I don’t think so. That’s why I went to the Hill yesterday and why I’ll be there today.

“That’s why I proposed a quick, but brief, reauthorization that will free Congress and this Administration to better address long-term transportation policy.

“Time is running out, and the Highway Trust Fund must be made solvent. Then, and only then, can this country get the kind of thorough transportation discussion needed to address our infrastructure investments in a smarter, more focused way, a way that best meets the real demands of the country.

“That’s a discussion President Obama and I look forward to. But, first we need to take care of business.”

According to Oberstar, his committee has been working on this bill for more than two years and has conducted intensive in-depth studies of existing and developing problems and reasonable solutions to them. To him, his committee and much of the country, waiting is not an option.

Yesterday, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) released the following:

“Statement of ARTBA President & CEO Pete Ruane on Congressional Release of Bipartisan Surface Transportation Authorization Act “Blueprint”

“American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) President & CEO Pete Ruane today released the following statement on “A Blueprint for Investment and Reform” released by leadership of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure:

“Today the bipartisan Transportation & Infrastructure Committee leadership has shown us why there is no reason to put off until tomorrow what some say cannot be done today. Chairman Oberstar and Ranking Member Mica deserve our highest praise.”

“The Committee and others in Congress have worked for more than two years to craft legislation that would dramatically boost investment to all modes of transportation. Two additional “blue ribbon” commissions deliberated for roughly three years and offered specific plans to address system needs, financing options and policy reform goals. The issue has been thoroughly studied and objectively evaluated.

“Action on a robust, reform-oriented multi-year reauthorization bill, as proposed by the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee leadership, is the only way to combat the combination of an economic downturn and increasing state budget difficulties. As history shows, putting the federal transportation programs in limbo contributes to uncertainty at the state level and leads to overall market stagnation.

“The proposal outlined today would ensure the economic gains initiated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are enhanced, not jeopardized.”

The Associated General Contrators of America (AGC) released the following:

s of Transportation Reauthorization Released

“Today, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released details of reauthorization legislation, the Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009, which is expected to be introduced tomorrow or Monday. The legislation is a 6 year $500 billion bill that will replace the current authorization, SAFETEA-LU, which is due to expire on September 30.

The Chairman of the Committee, James Oberstar (D-MN), has billed the legislation as a transformation in the way the federal government funds the nation’s transportation infrastructure. The documents released today include a blueprint for investment and reform, a framework of principles for federal surface transportation and an executive summary, which are all available on the AGC Web site. All of the documents and future updates can be found here.

“The blueprint of the legislation indicates a reduced number of programs but keeps most of the eligibility for them. It does not address any specifics on formula funding. The blueprint states that there would be project streamlining, but new environmental concerns exist, such as carbon reduction and livability. Finally, the plan would centralize national planning to include all transportation modes.

“The Highways and Transit Subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is planning a mark up of the legislation next Wednesday, June, 24, and has indicated that the process will be bipartisan.

“AGC Press Statement on the Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009


“Stephen Sandherr, chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America, released the following statement today in response to the release of the reauthorization principles by the leadership of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.

“If the next surface legislation is simply a referendum on the gas tax, Americans will inevitably be stuck with more of the same chronic congestion, crumbling roads and constrained transit options too many face today. Chairman Oberstar and his committee colleagues understand that the debate must instead focus on how to deliver a transportation system that will support economic growth, protect the environment and improve quality of life. And they are right to start this debate now, and not 18 months from now. Given the crucial role infrastructure plays in virtually every aspect of our economy and environment, delaying this debate for sunnier days is as politically unrealistic as it is economically untenable.

“As one of the largest users of the nation’s transportation network, the construction industry is counting on Congress and the Administration to address the challenges of congested roads, aging infrastructure and increasingly unreliable shipment schedules. After all, we can’t build new economic prosperity if construction workers are stuck in traffic, green building supplies are trapped in gridlock, and stimulus dollars are squandered on wasted fuel and slipped schedules.”

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) released the following statement:

AEM Urges Swift Action on Infrastructure Legislation

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) joins a coalition of organizations today to urge Congress to move ahead quickly on desperately needed reauthorization of surface transportation legislation.

America’s infrastructure is crumbling and proper investment can help improve American quality of life, boost U.S. competitiveness and reduce our nation’s high unemployment rate, AEM said today in Washington, DC.

“AEM applauds the introduction of this framework to move forward on reauthorizing the federal surface transportation programs. If Congress can make a long term commitment to investing in infrastructure, contractors will be able to make needed investment in capital equipment that will meet the short term need to put people back to work and meet the long term need to repair and update US infrastructure,” noted AEM President Dennis Slater.

AEM is working on Capitol Hill directly and through industry coalitions to support innovative funding solutions to fund the federal transportation programs. The association is an active member of the Americans for Transportation Mobility (ATM) and supports its efforts to coordinate a campaign for improved infrastructure with business, labor, transportation organizations and concerned citizens.

“An efficient and safe transportation network benefits all of us, and we urge swift action by the Committee and the House to consider this vital legislation,” Slater added.

There have been numerous articles on this topic because it is a very hot item. It is critical to the future of the country and our economic growth. I’m just a construction journalist who has lived through a dozen recessions and the repeated passages of the highway trust fund bill. I remember when fund allocation was a yearly activity. Talk about chaos and turmoil…

When I read the first release from LaHood yesterday, my blood pressure shot up to 300/200. I thought I was still asleep, having a horrendous nightmare. I have been a strong LaHood supporter because I really thought he would be good for the country’s transportation and highway programs.

When I read the statement that the solution to the problem was to stall passage of the 2009 highway trust fund bill for 18 months – UNTIL AFTER THE 2010 CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS – when the bill could be given careful study, it became obvious to me that once again the highway trust fund has become a political football. The administration and congress don’t want to increase taxes or impose any type of user fees on us because this could result in lost votes.

The truth of this matter is that at some point in time we are going to have to pay the fiddler… we have and are dancing the dance. Will it make a difference if you delay making your monetary contribution to the transportation infrastructure of this country? Delaying a comprehensive approach to the creation of an integrated transportation infrastructure only accomplishes one thing… it puts us another 18 months behind our global competitors and 18 months deeper in debt.

Bottom line… you will pay for the roads and you will pay for all the money that is being spent. We, you and I, are one of the owners of this country and we are ultimately responsible for paying the bills our employees incur…

What can we do? We can contact our congressional representatives and tell them that we want a new highway trust fund bill and that we are willing to pay for it…
.starting now.

Greg Sitek

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