Spanning the News: Final Bill Still a Tough Call

April 2, 2007

A wrong number can slow a conference call. But leave it to Congress to twist the meaning a little bit.

A wrong number can slow a conference call. But leave it to Congress to twist the meaning a little bit.

In this case, the wrong number is $295 billion—the Senate’s funding total for the highway reauthorization bill. Majority leadership was hoping the legislative body would agree with the administration’s number—$284 billion. As a way of protest, sources in Washington, D.C., revealed that Sen. Bill Frist was slow in providing a list of representatives for the all-important conference where the House and Senate will debate the details. In the meantime Congress passed a seventh funding extension on May 26, this one lasting 30 days.

“We’re way in the middle of the woods,” Brian Deery, senior director, Highway & Transportation Division for the Associated General Contractors of America, told Roads & Bridges. “We have a long way to go.”

The Senate did send down a ray of hope earlier in May when it overwhelmingly passed its $295 billion six-year version by an 89-11 vote. Under the bill’s financing package each state would receive at least a 15% increase over TEA-21 funding levels and also would receive a 91% rate of return of gas taxes collected in the state, increasing to 92% in 2009. The highway obligation limits for the remaining years would be as follows: $38.9 billion in FY 2006; $39.35 billion in FY ’07; $41.3 billion in FY ’08; and $42 billion in FY ’09.

In order to pay for the additional $11 billion, the Senate used a formula that included cracking down on fuel evasion and enforcing a gas guzzler tax. The bill also would charge state and county vehicles the standard gas tax. The vehicles would still receive an exemption, but the money would come out of the General Fund, not the Highway Trust Fund, according to Deery.

At press time there were rumors that Congress would allow a gradual shutdown of funding to keep pressure on the conferees to complete action of the bill. The idea, however, was rejected. Still, the threat on eventually cutting off finances was still a possibility if conferees were to drag their feet.

“The House just might get so frustrated that they would cut off funding,” said Deery. “It would immediately affect the states in the sense that it would certainly affect their willingness to let new contracts. The states could pay off contractors who are working on ongoing projects, but if they had to shift more state money into ongoing contracts without the federal reimbursement that would put more pressure on them not to put out future projects.”

If and when a final bill is passed, President Bush is still ready to veto any measure over the $284 billion limit. It would be the first veto of his presidency. The bill would then move back to the House and Senate and require a two-thirds majority approval. Deery said the Senate would override the veto, but the House would not.

“The leadership in the House is a lot stronger than the leadership in the Senate. The House leadership has decided they’re going to support the president and not go above the 284 number.

“In all my years of doing this stuff I have never seen such a focus on a specific number,” Deery continued. “Presidents in the past have vetoed the highway bill, but they have never said, ‘This is my number and if you go over it I’ll veto.’ They more or less have waited until the bill is passed and then said that it was more funding than they thought was appropriate.”

ARTBA: Traffic congestion should figure in energy policy

“Any comprehensive federal energy plan should include a concise policy and investment strategy to address the nation’s growing traffic congestion problem,” said Pete Ruane, president of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.

Ruane made his comments in response to the Texas Transportation Institute’s (TTI) 2005 Urban Mobility Report, released May 9. The annual congestion study found that traffic congestion continues to worsen despite slow growth in jobs and travel.

The increased congestion results in wasted fuel. The TTI study estimates Americans waste 2.3 billion gal of motor fuel per year. At $2.28 per gal, the wasted fuel adds up to $6.2 billion a year that American motorists and shippers pay for congestion.

With other factors, such as lost productivity, TTI estimates that congestion costs Americans a total of $63.1 billion a year.

“President Bush recently pointed out that ‘Our dependence on foreign energy is like a foreign tax on the American people.’ What about the U.S. ‘traffic congestion tax’—in time and money—being levied on all American families and businesses,” said Ruane.

The release of this year’s Urban Mobility Report coincided with debate in the U.S. Congress about reauthorizing a six-year funding plan for transportation programs. The House-passed version of the six-year bill includes a Congestion Relief Program to address urban congestion problems.

“The bill includes important sections dedicated to developing a strategy to improve mobility by attacking congestion in a systematic way using an array of traffic congestion relief activities,” said study author Tim Lomax, a research engineer at TTI. Those include building more road and public transportation capacity, operating that capacity for the most efficient service and innovative pricing and truck-only lane projects.

“We share the president’s view that it’s time for America to start building again to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign energy supplies,” said ARTBA’s Ruane. “Building needed new transportation infrastructure capacity should be part of the solution along with the proposed new capacity for nuclear power and oil and natural gas production.

Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters also issued a statement in response to the Urban Mobility Report: “Today’s congestion report, released by the Texas Transportation Institute, offers more proof that surface transportation reauthorization is long overdue. The Bush administration’s proposal invests a record $284 billion in road and transit projects and will invest more over six years to build new roads and transit systems than ever before. It directs every available resource to highway, transit and safety programs without raising the gas tax or increasing the deficit. The pre- sident’s plan also gives states a menu of innovative options to tackle gridlock and helps drivers get where they want to go safely and on time. These options must be preserved in order to begin reducing congestion.”

“The growing traffic trend is extremely problematic to the hundreds of millions of motorists who rely on safe and efficient roads to travel,” said Greg Cohen, president and chief executive officer of the American Highway Users Alliance. “Traffic congestion not only results in 3.7 billion hours wasted on the road, but the time lost is time that could be spent with our families.”

TTI reported that annual delay per peak-period traveler has grown from 16 hours in 1982 to 47 hours 2003.

NAPA honored by Senate

The U.S. Senate adopted a resolution on May 10 honoring the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. The resolution recognizes the contributions of members of the association to the U.S. and its economy.

In its action, the Senate also recognized the NAPA Research and Education Foundation (NAPAREF) and the National Center for Asphalt Technology (NCAT). NAPAREF’s scholarships since 1995 have assisted more than 800 undergraduate ad graduate students in funding their education. The foundation also funds research, publishes educational materials and sponsors educational exhibitions. NCAT, which was founded and endowed by NAPA’s members, is the world’s premier institution for asphalt research.

The Senate resolution was sponsored by Senators Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), the chairman and ranking minority member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Kit Bond (R-Mo.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the chairman and ranking minority member of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

OSHRC drops AGC-opposed rule

The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) announced on May 12 that the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) has withdrawn a proposal that AGC said would have cost small contractors time and money. The OSHRC proposal would have limited practice before the commission to only attorneys, in-house expertise or affected employees.

“AGC is pleased that the proposal to restrict nonattorneys from practicing before the commission has been removed from further consideration by OSHRC,” said AGC CEO Stephen E. Sandherr. “These firms would have had no alternative except to hire outside legal counsel and bear that enormous cost or simply surrender their rights.”

AGC commented to OSHRC on both the advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on July 19, 2004, and the notice of proposed rulemaking on April 4, 2005, about the adverse effect on small contractors that such a proposal would generate. In its written comments, AGC’s COO David Lukens stated, “AGC would expect a restriction on representation to harm the many small businesses that lack the in-house expertise to represent themselves effectively.”

The final rule was published by OSHRC in the May 3, 2005, Federal Register and contains other procedural rule revisions governing practice before the commission that would improve the overall process.

AGC’s written comments and a link to the notice of the final rule are available on the AGC website ( The final rule will take effect on Aug. 1, 2005, for all cases that are docketed on or after that date and also will apply to any further proceedings on cases that were pending prior to that date. OSHRC is an independent federal agency that serves as a court system when employers or employees challenge citations issued by OSHA.

Va. eases pain of steel prices

Almost three dozen contractors on Virginia road-construction projects have appealed to the Virginia Department of Transportation for relief from sky-high steel prices. VDOT has even agreed to pay two of those contractors almost $2.3 million above the fixed price of their contracts, the Richmond, Va., Times-Dispatch reported, to ease the pain of steep, unforeseen increases in steel prices after the fixed-price contracts were signed.

In return for VDOT’s monetary assistance, the contractors have agreed to give VDOT concessions worth at least as much as the payments. VDOT is allowed under state law to renegotiate a contract as long as any increased payment is offset by concessions from the contractor.

One contractor, Archer Western, agreed to complete its work on the I-95 Springfield Interchange 50 days earlier than agreed to in the original contract. The other contractor, R.R. Dawson Bridge Co., agreed to finish 45 days early on its work reconstructing 11 bridges along U.S. 1 at I-95 and drop claims against VDOT worth $2.47 million.

VDOT also is considering renegotiating other contracts, including its largest with Tidewater Skanska Inc. worth $146.6 million for work on the U.S. 1 interchange reconstruction.

The main reason VDOT is interested in helping its road builders is to prevent steel fabricators and builders from going out of business. If the nearly doubled steel prices, short supplies and long delivery times of 2004 forced companies out of business, there would be fewer companies to bid on and construct Virginia’s road projects.

Curran settles fraud case

Curran Contracting Inc., Crystal Lake, Ill., has agreed to a settlement in a case brought by an employee, Betty Bill, who alleged the company billed for materials it never used in a Lake County, Ill., paving project and retaliated against her for bringing the false claim to the attention of the government. Curran agreed to pay $500,000 to settle the federal part of the false-claims case, which started five years ago. Added to the $750,000 Curran paid to settle with the state, the company has paid a total of $1.25 million to settle the case.

In addition to the $500,000 payment, Curran agreed to be supervised under a three-year corporate integrity agreement monitored by the U.S. DOT. According to the settlement, Curran did not admit any liability, wrongdoing or improper conduct.

Bill was represented by Michael I. Behn of Futterman & Howard, Chicago. Curran was represented by Ronald S. Safer of Schiff Hardin LLP, Chicago.

Bill will receive 25% of Curran’s payment—the maximum allowed for a whistleblower—for bringing the matter to the government’s attention and will pay her expenses, attorney fees and costs.

Belt Parkway wins ASCE award

The replacement of the Belt Parkway Bridge over Ocean Parkway has been named the Design/Build Project of the Year by the Metropolitan Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Gannett Fleming, New York, the lead design consultant on the project, overcame several challenges to complete the bridge on a short deadline. The Granite Halmar design-build team specified extensive use of precast elements, which can be assembled faster and with much less noise than casting the elements in place.

The Belt Parkway Bridge, a regional corridor traveled by 166,000 vehicles daily, was rapidly deteriorating and nearing traffic capacity. The New York City Department of Transportation needed to replace the bridge and reconstruct the interchange ramps quickly with minimal disruption to the community in Brooklyn.

AGA announces new scholarship

The American Galvanizers Association (AGA), Centennial, Colo., has established a $5,000 “Galvanize the Future Scholarship” essay contest, for which three scholarships—worth $2,500, $1,500 and $1,000—will be awarded this November for the best student compositions received. The scholarships are open to any college student majoring in architecture, engineering or materials science. Information is available at AGA’s scholarship website (

Contract update

Gannett Fleming has been selected by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission for the preliminary and final design of the new direct interchange between I-95 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike north of Philadelphia. Gannett Fleming’s Valley Forge, Pa., office will develop the design of a $300 million section, the largest and most complex of the eight design contracts making up the $500 million project.

URS Corp., San Francisco, has been awarded a contract to design an 11.5-mile segment of the 183A Turnpike north of Austin, Texas. The design-build project includes design and construction of a new toll facility that will provide commuters with an alternative to the congested U.S. 183.

The Florida Department of Transportation District 7 has awarded a contract to Parsons Brinckerhoff, Tampa, Fla., for on-call bridge engineering and construction engineering and inspection services.

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