The Battle Over the Highway Trust Fund is Just Beginning

Written by  ARTBA President and CEO Pete Ruane

As I write this column on January 31, I’ve been flabbergasted, to say the least, at what took place during the first three weeks of the year.


Several groups purporting to represent certain transportaton industry sectors and no less than three widely-read construction trade publications have sent up smoke signals that the battle over one of the most significant threats facing the U.S. transportation design and construction market in decades is already finished.


What’s even more alarming to me is that the “white flag waving” came before we even have had a serious fight.


Specifically, I am referring to the reauthorization of MAP-21 and the crisis facing the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF)—the source, on average, of 52 percent of all state highway and bridge capital investments. Unless Congress and the President act by October 1, the HTF will not be able to support any new projects in fiscal year 2015.


Such an outcome could devastate the American economy, jeopardize hundreds of thousands of jobs, and throttle market development activities for many ARTBA and non-ARTBA member firms. At least nine states already are warning of adverse impacts on their construction programs if the uncertainty drags on.


One construction publication didn’t even mention MAP-21 or the HTF in its wish list of top construction business issues for 2014, and it called for shifting the focus away from Washington, because it viewed the chance of consensus as low. Another publication opinion piece slammed the politicians in Washington, and said the only way to go was to toll everything. While ARTBA certainly supports tolling as part of the solution, it is not the panacea, and the political hurdles to establishing national tolling are arguably even higher than other new revenue options.


It’s easy to bemoan Washington political and policy gridlock, and to argue that nothing will get done. But, it’s the wrong message to be sending to transportation design and construction professionals whose livelihoods depend, in large part, on what happens on Capitol Hill.


The fact is that when it comes to infrastructure policy issues, there is common ground to be ploughed. How quickly we have forgotten that MAP-21 passed the House of Representatives 373-52 and the Senate 74-19—the same legislation many naysayers said would never get done. How many other bills garner such overwhelming support these days?


Federal highway and transit investment will be more than $50 billion in fiscal year 2014. It speaks to the importance of the federal government role in transportation policy and also explains why shifting focus out of Washington would be unwise for at least two more reasons.


First, the nearby chart on page 25 shows that from 2008-2013, state and local highway and bridge spending dropped cumulatively about $18 billion from pre-recession levels. By contrast, over the same period, federal investment, thanks in part to the 2009 stimulus law, increased by nearly $17 billion and helped keep the market afloat.


Second, over 40 percent of the $11 trillion in domestic truck freight shipments in 2011 were sent out of state, according to Federal Highway Administration data. Over 23 percent of that total was sent to non-neighboring states, which is more evidence of a national transportation network’s importance to moving products and supplies critical to economic growth. This network cannot be built and sustained through a patchwork of state programs.


Given these realities, now is the time for every industry professional concerned about the future of their business to get ready to fight over the next few months.


Take your message directly to Washington. Call your representative and senators via ARTBA’s Action Hotline (888-448-2782) today and tell them to do their bloody jobs by fixing the Highway Trust Fund and completing action on MAP-21’s reauthorization as soon as possible. Download the “Transportation Construction Advocate” app from the iTunes or Google Play stores to access the information you need to connect with your elected officials. And plan to be in Washington June 9-11 for the ARTBA Federal Issues Program and Transportation Construction Coalition Fly-In.


The work ahead will not be easy, but it never is when it’s truly worth fighting for. When it comes to the imminent battle over the Highway Trust Fund and our industry’s future, surrender is not an option!


Pete Ruane is president & CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based American Road & Transportation Builders Association.


The preceding article has been reprinted with permission from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA). AGC of Texas is an affiliate of ARTBA. For more information, visit www.artba.org.



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