EDITORIAL: Getting wind of what?

As HTF runs dry, little progress made on next road bill

April 14, 2014

He was face down in the icy snow on our front yard, and I was not about to lift him up.

It was the dead of winter and we were trying to sell our house, and the dead-end of a real estate agent we were working with had a contract that was ticking close to expiration. For 90 days he failed to bring in one legitimate showing, and as much as I hated to do it, I had to show him the door. The termination happened in the morning, and when I returned home I found the real estate agent sign, complete with his headshot, was suffocating in the 15 in. of Mother Nature’s white blanket. The wind must have slammed it down like a frail wrestler. I thought it was appropriate. Apparently there are companies that actually make money installing and removing real estate signs, and my guess is the one assigned to our house had their pockets stuffed with so much coin they were a little slow in reacting. They finally did the deed day four, sawing it right off, and did it with such talent not a single piece of their financial pull filling their pants landed on our lawn.

Workers in Arizona installed the “Future I-11” highway sign in late March, and my hope is a call will not have to be placed to have it pulled, because we all know how fast the federal government moves, and we also know it has absolutely nothing to do with a fortune it is being forced to carry on its back.

The I-11 corridor will join Phoenix with Las Vegas and was a requirement of MAP-21. It also has been marked as an essential link between Mexico and Canada, which could make us more competitive on a global-economy scale with countries like China and India. The route, however, is dependent on federal funding, and not a penny has been dropped on this jobsite. I hope this “Future I-11” sign does not get slapped silly by a takedown-hungry gust from the desert, because it just might be up until it gets cold in Arizona—really cold—and we all know the odds of that happening. The Highway Trust Fund (HTF) is performing at its worst, and the U.S. DOT now believes it will be close to empty in July. A few months ago the panic attack was scheduled for August. My bet is the doomsday date will be pushed up even further. When that happens, the federal government will be forced to pay states weekly or monthly, instead of daily. Work flow will be disrupted, and those in Congress are moving like their pants have been packed full of concrete.

The Obama administration and Rep. David Camp have come up with multiyear highway bills to replace MAP-21. Obama’s is just over $300 billion, while Camp’s includes a $126 billion pot of gold, but both rely on corporate tax reform, an issue that will be handled like it is covered in radioactive waste during an election year. Bill Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, believes the next highway bill should lean on a mileage-based user fee. It’s an old idea, but still a good one. However, such a system, like I have said on this page before, will take the next decade to set up. The Senate really has not come up with anything, only to say it will not rely on the General Fund to make up for any HTF shortcomings. As of this writing, the HTF meltdown is about 120 days away, and Congress appears to be 1,200 days away from any kind of resolution. It makes me want to pull off my best wrestling move and put each one of them face down on the hardwood floor. Would they take that as a sign? R&B

Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson

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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