The call is becoming more urgent, the tone more dire.
Industry leaders at the National Asphalt Pavement Association’s 57th Annual Meeting in Palm Desert, Calif., again talked about the effects of a nation lacking a long-term highway bill. The current funding extension expires on March 31, and the general feeling a ninth extension will be implemented and run through this year’s general election.
Bill Graves, president and CEO of the American Trucking Association (ATA) and former governor of Kansas, centered his talk around a growing U.S. population that will rely more and more on the trucking industry, which will mean increased congestion on the road and bridge network. By 2022, Graves said trucks would carry 70% of the nation’s freight.
The ATA continues to support an increase in the federal fuel tax, which costs a mere two-tenths of 1% to collect. Tolls, on the other hand, cost up to 30%. However, when Graves took the endorsement to Capitol Hill he recalled he was stunned to see unwillingness by Congress to take any action.
“Right now we are stuck in neutral going nowhere, fast,” Graves said.
However, some progress could be made in the coming weeks. According to Graves, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee will mark up a five-year highway bill by Feb. 2, and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) has promised the measure will receive floor time, which means something could be passed relatively quickly. The bill supposedly funds the industry at SAFETEA-LU levels. The Senate still has a ways to go on making its two-year highway bill official, and then there is the focus of the White House, which appears to still be locked on high-speed rail.
“I’m not at all optimistic to see the House, Senate and White House compromise on a bill [in 2012],” said Graves.
Charlie Potts, CEO of Heritage Construction & Materials, believes a new vision for funding the road and bridge industry could be developed in the next two or three years, “but the bickering [in Washington] must stop,” he said.
When asked about the potential of a mileage-based fee system, Graves said he was unsure how such a system would work, “but it’s a logical step to take.”