EDITORIAL: Fighting a punishment

Latest fine from the feds not a fair one for industry

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Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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I  have pulled way too many pacifiers lately.
My tantrum-advanced daughter, who is at the height of the Terrible Twos, has decided it is no longer in her best interest to brush her teeth every night. When we try to enforce the activity, she refuses with her best scream, best kick and best scowl. I’m left with executing the worst kind of punishment—removing the pacifier from her jaw-locked mouth.
At press time, officials in several states were grinding their teeth in nervous anticipation of a Jan. 30 deadline. Noncompliance would result in the surrender of a comfort companion—federal dollars for highway and bridge repair and construction.
A federal mandate was calling for all states to require interstate truck drivers to provide proof from a medical professional that they are healthy enough to handle a big rig out on the open road. If the new procedure was not enforced by the 30th day of the new year, states like Missouri would risk losing 5% of their highway funds. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, about one-third of the states was in jeopardy of feeling the pull.
Although you will not get it in my household, there does appear to be some leniency here. Those states which fail to meet the deadline can get an extension if there is proof they are working their tail off to enforce the mandate, and the feds have admitted it might not be until 2014 before dollars will be held back. Missouri certainly tried to do the chore late last year. State legislators worked through a package that included the federal licensing requirements, but it was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon. The reason for the high-powered rejection was because the mandate was tied into another measure calling for more electronic billboards along state highways. Nixon did not want the fancy advertisements, and the legislature could not find the extra support to override the governor’s rejection. A few other states have followed the Missouri approach with similar results. Some, like Colorado, have made the change official but are having trouble connecting to the national database before the Jan. 30 deadline.
Nobody has the luxury to lose federal highway dollars these days, so why pair the mandate with an ugly cousin? If Missouri, which, for the record, appeared to be close to finally passing the trucker requirement, did not want to flirt with losing $30 million why not treat the measure special and give it some alone time with the governor? I do not quite understand the bundle technique when there is more than a bundle of cash at stake.
However, the federal government is not the innocent child in all of this, either. Why must it continue to punish the road and bridge industry for a state’s lapse in competence? The same scenario played out with the minimum penalties for drunken driving in 2011, when 11 states failed to follow federal guidelines to prohibit open containers of alcohol in vehicles. The end result was a total of $350 million being transferred from road construction to highway safety. More money to cushion the blow for drivers certainly is not a bad thing, but what I am trying to get at here is the road and bridge industry seems to be the whipping child when it comes to withholding federal dollars. It is not like these states are refusing to install a new type of guardrail that those on Capitol Hill believe is a must-have. There I can see highway departments being penalized for not following through. What we are dealing with is the physical and psychological health of drivers, so why not hit the aid designated for public health?
I am just looking for a fair punishment. R&B

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