A locked box does little to protect money left out on the table.
The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) now has an armed-guard approach to a problem that only hardened the knuckles of criticism. Voters recently passed Amendment 3, a measure set to provide MoDOT with a desperate load of “secure” project capital.
The past 13 years has been a public relations horror story for the agency. It all started in 1992, when a 15-year road-building plan was “greatly over-programmed and under-funded.” The public held the disappointment until 2002, when it demolished another transportation funding measure—Proposition B—by humiliating numbers.
Amendment 3, however, appears to have the DOT once again shaking hands with the people of Missouri. The measure, which is the biggest ever to land on the state’s constitution, effectively streamlines portions of the fuel tax, automobile sales tax and vehicle registration fees into that locked box. When it matures the move will produce about $180 million annually.
Missouri has always had a protected road fund, but taxes designated for it were being siphoned off for other uses with other agencies. Amendment 3 secures the transactions.
“Amendment 3 expands the locked box,” new Missouri Transportation Director Pete Rahn told Roads & Bridges. “Four out of five voters said they want their roads fixed and trust MoDOT to do it. That is a huge turnaround from the Proposition B vote.”
Rahn, who spent eight years as secretary of the New Mexico DOT, believes Proposition B, which involved an increase in taxes, was doomed from the start.
“I think there was a certain venting of anger with the Prop B failure,” he said. “That was the first chance voters got to express their displeasure with the abandonment of the 1992 plan. They had a chance to get that out of their system.”
With Amendment 3 now in place, Rahn and MoDOT are ready to win back the crowd of daily commuters. Officials are moving aggressively toward fulfilling Missouri’s Smooth Road Initiative, which will involve spending $400 million to resurface over 2,200 miles of major roads that carry 60% of the state’s total traffic. Rahn said 75% of those miles are in fair or poor condition. The initiative will upgrade the pavement to good or very good in the next three years. A series of 10-year bonds will be used to pay for the maintenance.
“We’re going to put brighter stripes down, add rumble strips to shoulders and produce a noticeably better ride,” he said.
MoDOT also plans to put the pedal to the metal and speed up work on another $431 million in projects. The goal is to finish an average of two years earlier than originally planned.
The third critical phase of Amendment 3 calls for the planning of $1.3 billion in new projects. Rahn jokingly claimed the start of the final leg as the culmination of his honeymoon. There have been $8 billion worth of projects submitted by MoDOT’s 10 district engineers.
“When we choose $1.3 billion and don’t choose $6.7 billion that’s when (the happiness) ends,” the leader said with a laugh.
The commission will approve the lucky projects in May, but in the meantime Rahn and MoDOT seem committed to polishing the image.
“So far we’ve been able to build a lot of bridges to a lot of people in Missouri that have been alienated by MoDOT,” he said. “While an awful lot of good things have happened since I’ve been here, they are things from other people’s effort that I have just reaped. I have reaped the fruit of their labor.”
Bush administration budget includes reauthorization plan
As part of its fiscal-year 2006 budget proposal that was released on Feb. 7, the Bush administration proposed to increase its federal highway and transit investment recommendations to the levels proposed by House Republicans during the 2004 highway bill negotiations. The administration’s new TEA-21 reauthorization financing proposal would provide $283.9 billion in guaranteed highway, transit and safety investments through 2009. The new proposal is an increase of roughly $28 billion from the guaranteed funding the administration recommended last year. The proposal amounts to a cumulative 5.5% increase above current levels of federal highway and transit investment after adjusting for projected inflation.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta told the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) and other transportation community representatives that the administration’s budget is deficit-neutral. To accomplish this objective, the administration is investing all the new Highway Trust Fund revenue generated by legislation last year to reform the taxation of ethanol fuels and crack down on user-fee evasion. The budget also proposes to reform the treatment of current federal fuel tax refunds available to state and local governments so the cost of the refunds would be borne by the federal General Fund rather than the Highway Trust Fund. This proposal, if enacted by Congress, would generate an estimated $5.6 billion in new Highway Trust Fund revenues through 2009.
The administration’s recommendations will now be considered by the House and Senate as they work to pass their own TEA-21 reauthorization proposals.
Construction totals up in Dec.
The value of construction put in place in December 2004 grew by 1.1% over November and 8.7% over December 2003, according to the latest statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.
In the area of public highway and street construction, the December 2004 preliminary total was $68.1 billion, 3.2% higher than in November and 9.1% greater than in December 2003.
For all types of construction combined, the preliminary total reached $1.3 trillion.
“These numbers mark a real turnaround for nonresidential construction and show good acceleration at year-end,” commented Kenneth D. Simonson, chief economist for the Association General Contractors of America. “After falling for three years, private nonresidential construction wound up 4% higher than in the previous year, with December’s total a solid 6% higher than in December 2003. Public construction was 3% higher for the full year and 9% ahead in December.”
Simonson noted that part of the gain was due to steep price increases for many construction materials. “In 2005, I expect prices to rise less dramatically, and for more construction categories to keep expanding in inflation-adjusted terms. However, it is essential that Congress approve an adequate level of highway spending on a long-term basis, or this important sector will slip badly by 2006.”
Minnesota lawmaker suggests 5-cent gas-tax increase
A Minnesota legislator has called for a 5 cents-per-gallon increase in the state’s gasoline tax and add a surcharge on car sales of $75 for used cars and $125 for new cars to help pay for highway and bridge construction, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Minnesota Senate Minority Leader Dick Day said the plan should cost the average Minnesota resident only $6 per month but pump $260 million a year into the state’s construction fund.
Day thinks Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty “has done a really great job of helping transportation,” but that more needs to be done. Pawlenty opposes any new taxes. Day expects opposition to his proposal from his own Republican party.
Pawlenty and his lieutenant governor have proposed a 10-year plan to invest $7.2 billion to accelerate dozens of major highway and transit projects without raising taxes, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and finance the plan mostly with borrowing and without raising taxes.
Day’s proposal called for raising the gas tax without the approval of voters in the form of an amendment to the state constitution. A gas-tax increase from 20 cents to 25 cents per gallon was called for by the Minnesota Chamber of commerce in January, the Star-Tribune reported, but the chamber recommended the increase as a voter-approved amendment.
Va. debates extra tax revenue
The Virginia economy is doing so well that it will generate millions more in tax dollars than the state expected or planned for. Virginia Gov. Mark Warner announced at the end of January that the state would collect an extra $1.2 billion this year, the Washington Post reported, and he amended his budget.
The legislators of Virginia are debating whether to spend the money on state services or cut taxes and return it to the taxpayers. The state house and senate were scheduled to propose their spending plans in early February.
Gov. Warner warned the General Assembly not to count on similar windfalls in the future. He said spikes in corporate taxes and home refinancing are not likely to last.
“I’m not going to bet the future of the commonwealth on extraordinary growth on our most volatile revenue sources,” Warner said.
Warner said his economic advisers could not explain the 78% increase in corporate taxes compared with the previous year. He said the increase in home refinancing was the result of low interest rates, and he commented that there were more home refinancings in Fairfax County in 2003 than there were homes in the county, the result of some homeowners refinancing twice in one year.
GDOT looks to paperless payment to contractors
The Georgia Department of Transportation is implementing a new internal paperless data exchange system designed to reduce administrative costs and expedite contractor payments. The web-based application accelerates payments to contractors on completed construction projects or project segments by eliminating the time-consuming need to circulate reams of paperwork among field offices across the state and various departments in the Georgia DOT’s Atlanta general office. Instead, GDOT’s on-site project manager can confirm and enter the necessary information.
Implementation of the application, known as Construction Submittal Interface (CSI), was scheduled to begin in February after a two-month pilot program. Georgia DOT officials said it will eliminate countless hours of paperwork and produce significant savings for the state’s taxpayers.
“This will be a tremendous tool,” Georgia DOT Construction Director Glenn Durrence said. “We’ll be able to thoroughly analyze contractor reports more quickly and more effectively. With CSI, our staff will be more productive, and not just contractors but all Georgia taxpayers will benefit.”
AEM opens Ottawa office
The Association of Equipment Manufacturers has opened an AEM Canada office in Ottawa. The association opened the Ottawa office to be close to the Canadian Parliament and seat of Canada’s federal government.
The goal is to raise the profile of the equipment manufacturing industry in public-policy issues and assist companies doing business in or with Canada.
“By increasing our industry’s presence in Ottawa, our association is strengthening its public-policy position in Canada,” said AEM President Dennis Slater. “AEM Canada members will have increased government representation in addition to access to all the benefits of association membership.”
The Ottawa office will focus primarily on government affairs, while other association programs will be coordinated out of AEM’s Milwaukee headquarters.
Sunstate joins NER database
Sunstate Equipment Co., Phoenix, a major equipment rental company in eight southern states, has registered its equipment fleet with the National Equipment Register (NER) in order to help Sunstate and its clients deter theft and increase the chances of recovering stolen equipment.
Sunstate’s Corporate Risk Manager Don Cash noted that “theft is a significant problem for rental companies and their clients, particularly in southern states. Having closely observed NER’s development over the last two years, Sunstate considers that NER’s unique services complement our existing theft-prevention efforts. It also is a very cost-effective solution that can be implemented immediately and across our entire fleet.”
NER provides identification advice and ownership information from its databases of millions of equipment records to law enforcement seeking to identify suspicious equipment. NER will now be able to identify equipment belonging to Sunstate.
All Sunstate units are being marked with decals that clearly warn thieves that the equipment is registered on a national database used extensively by law enforcement and that the chances of being detected while moving, storing or selling the equipment are greatly increased.
ARTBA objects to EPA proposal for project-specific analysis
ARTBA in late January told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that it should not proceed with a proposal to allow project-specific analysis for determining transportation compliance with the federal Clean Air Act.
The EPA’s proposal would allow individual transportation projects to be evaluated based on their projected effects on the level of particulate matter in the surrounding area.
ARTBA urged the EPA to focus on the air quality of these areas as a whole and not individual projects. The association predicted that the proposal would be used to delay transportation projects, not to improve air quality.
The EPA proposal, ARTBA said, would run counter to the current administration’s emphasis on environmental streamlining in order to speed up the review process for transportation projects. ARTBA also cited the EPA’s own data showing a dramatic 30% reduction in particulate matter over the past 25 years without the proposed new measure.
ARTBA taking scholarship apps
The ARTBA Transportation Development Foundation is now accepting nominations for the Highway Worker Memorial Scholarship Program for the 2005 academic year.
The program provides financial assistance to help the children of highway construction workers killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty pursue post-high school education.
The scholarships have a value of up to $2,000 and are supported by contributions from highway construction industry executives, companies and labor groups nationwide.
Vandals plunder Great Wall for road-building materials
About 100 meters of the Great Wall of China near Xinxing village was destroyed in January, according to the Xinhua News Agency and other sources. The plundered material is thought to have been taken at night and used to pave a road, the Ningxia Daily reported.
Xinxing village is in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. The sections of the wall in the region were rebuilt of rammed earth, an excellent construction material, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) after being originally constructed in the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.). Less than 2,500 km remain of the original 6,300-km Qin-era wall.
The local public security bureau has begun an investigation.
The wall was named to the United Nation’s World Heritage List in 1987.
From the Jan. issue
On the cover of the January issue was a photo of the top portion of the Cooper River Bridge in South Carolina. The photo was courtesy of the South Carolina DOT.
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