Building and Buying America

Aug. 14, 2023
The hidden cost of safety

By Cameron Greene, Contributing Author

The Buy America provision that became law as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA) aims to revitalize America’s economy through the return of manufacturing jobs to this country. The American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA) understands and supports the mission this provision aims to address.

However, we also understand it is in the public’s immediate interest to enhance and improve roadway safety. As a result, we have serious concerns that the rushed implementation of the new Build America, Buy America (BABA) policies may severely undercut the programs and projects that were outlined as part of the IIJA.

The change of BABA, which originally only applied to products made predominantly of iron and steel, would expand the list of construction materials that would fall under the requirements. This means the sourcing, manufacturing, and assembly of the lifesaving products and devices made and installed by ATSSA members would need to be majority-American made.

This change to the BABA law allows for no time to set up manufacturing in the United States, no time for sourcing alternative pieces and products that would meet the requirements, and no clarity on how a waiver process would work after every avenue to meet the requirements was exhausted.

A survey of ATSSA members in the fall of 2022 showed that most members were worried that the new BABA provision would result in them being unable to domestically source the materials and products that would now be required for many of the devices they manufacture and install. This would lead them to see large upticks in the costs of procuring products and undertaking projects. This also could lead to a confusing certification process that could jeopardize the completion of roadway safety projects. Nearly two-thirds of ATSSA members believe the implementation of the new BABA provision would lead to work interruptions and project completion challenges.

While there are negative effects on the business side for ATSSA with the implementation of the new BABA provision, the delay or cancelation of lifesaving projects across the country due to its enactment should be cause for concern for every American. According to the most recent estimate from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 42,915 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2021, which is an increase of 10.5% over the previous year. As Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said, “We face a crisis on America’s roadways that we must address together.” It is ATSSA’s stance that the implementation of the new Buy America law will not move safety on our roadways forward but rather would slow our ability to take on this safety crisis. R&B

Cameron Greene is the Director of Federal Government Relations for ATSSA 

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