On their way to work

Jan. 16, 2004

The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) is hoping members of Congress will do some reading off the train.

A new ad campaign is urging the House and Senate to support the $375 billion, six-year highway funding bill--the Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy of Users (TEA-LU). Three-panel billboards were placed at Metro stop Capitol South and Union Station when lawmakers returned to work on Jan. 20.

The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) is hoping members of Congress will do some reading off the train.

A new ad campaign is urging the House and Senate to support the $375 billion, six-year highway funding bill--the Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy of Users (TEA-LU). Three-panel billboards were placed at Metro stop Capitol South and Union Station when lawmakers returned to work on Jan. 20.

“We’re putting the full-court press on,” Matt Jeanneret, director of public affairs for ARTBA, told Roads & Bridges. “The most important thing this year is to pass a meaningful bill in 2004.”

But the reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) stands behind an omnibus appropriations bill and the energy bill. Both must be passed before the new highway fiscal plan, and debate on both measures appeared to be imminent at press time. Currently, federal highway and transit programs are running on an extension that expires on Feb. 29.

The $820 billion omnibus appropriations bill faced criticism on several fronts. Conservatives objected to the fact that the bill exceeded the figure called for in the FY 2004 budget resolution, while Democrats complained that they were largely excluded from the negotiations on the omnibus measure. Members of both parties were angered by action to include concessions to the White House that ran contrary to action taken by Congress.

Senate Majority Leader William Frist (R-Tenn.) postponed action on the bill until after the holiday recess, and if the Senate does not clear a conference agreement the bill may be sent back to the negotiations table. Reopening the bill could mean reductions in transportation funding.

At stake in the energy bill is the transfer of the 2.5-cents-per-gal tax on ethanol-blended fuels to the Highway Trust Fund and the replacement of the 5.2-cent tax exemption.

“The promise on (the energy bill) was it would be addressed and resolved to the liking of the industry in the highway bill,” said Jeanneret. “The 2.5 cents is something that has broad support on Capitol Hill. The issue is how you deal with the 5.2 cents. Resolving those issues has impact on the overall funding levels that would be in the next reauthorization bill.”

Then there’s the issue of compromise between the three versions of the next long-term highway bill. The Bush administration’s  “Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003” (SAFETEA), a $311 billion Senate version and TEA-LU cover a wide spectrum of funding possibilities. Before the holiday recess, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) expressed the need for a six-year, $350 billion bill.

Whatever deal is struck action must be taken during the first half of the election year before members of Congress hit the campaign trail.

To complement print and radio ads, ARTBA held a “Call Congress Day” on Jan. 21 and its Legislative Conference Feb. 23-24. ARTBA and the Associated General Contractors of America will host a Transportation Construction Coalition Fly-In Feb. 24-25 in Washington, D.C. For more information, contact ARTBA at 202/289-4434.

About The Author: Bill Wilson is editor of Roads & Bridges.