Barack Obama has been elected the 44th president of the U.S. There will be at least six new senators, 45 new members of the House and a slew of new faces at the U.S. Department of Transportation and the White House. The economy and two ongoing wars are obviously front and center in Washington. So, what does it all mean for the next multiyear highway/transit investment bill?
As we begin this “mega-authorization” year with the clock ticking, one thing is clear: The transportation design and construction industry faces significant headwinds. It is clear that we collectively have a great deal of work to do in educating these new policy makers about making transportation investment a national priority. And there is no getting away from the fact that growing the highway, transit and aviation programs is going to require the Congress and president to boost revenues—no doubt a heavy lift.
Despite these challenges, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) remains bullish—not bearish—about the outlook for increasing federal transportation infrastructure investment.
In recent years, when push has come to shove and despite the heated rhetoric from all sides, Congress has repeatedly stepped up and successfully pushed increases in federal highway and transit investment. Last year, many thought a solution to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) revenue shortfall for FY 2009 was out of reach. Yet, the Congress and President Bush got the job done, even if it was only a one-year fix.
As Congress begins to move further into the reauthorization process, it will face a difficult decision among these choices: (1) cutting investment as the HTF faces an even larger $20 billion shortfall, (2) deficit spending or (3) generating new transportation investment revenue. When the dust finally settles, ARTBA believes Congress and President Obama will agree on Choice No. 3.
The 2009 bill also offers a unique opportunity to establish a new transportation paradigm.
ARTBA believes the federal surface transportation program should be “reformed, refocused, refinanced and restructured” for the future. The ARTBA plan has two distinct, but complementary parts.
First, the current highway and transit programs must be significantly better funded to preserve past infrastructure investments and address future safety and mobility priorities. This will require at least a 13-cents-per-gal increase in the federal motor fuels tax to recoup lost purchasing power since 1993 and generate the revenue necessary to maintain current highway and bridge conditions. The fuel tax also should be indexed to prevent future dilution of these revenues. Public-private partnerships, innovative financing and tolling also should be part of the solution.
The second part of ARTBA’s plan calls for creation of a Critical Commerce Corridors (3C) program—financed with “fire-walled” freight-related user fees—that would focus on improving goods movement throughout the U.S.
You can learn more about ARTBA’s proposals online at www.artba.org.
While the road to reauthorization may have bumps and curves, now is not the time to retreat one inch from the legislative playing field. This can be a time of great opportunities for an industry that is poised and positioned better than many others to help put America back on track to economic growth, competitiveness and prosperity. With your grassroots involvement, our industry can be part of the solution.