March 26, 2007

Now that reauthorization of federal surface transportation legislation is finally behind us, many in the highway construction industry are now focusing their efforts at the state and local levels of government.

Now that reauthorization of federal surface transportation legislation is finally behind us, many in the highway construction industry are now focusing their efforts at the state and local levels of government.

One reason is that even with the increased funding under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), federal funding falls far short of what is needed just to maintain current road and bridge conditions, let alone improve them. And according to a recent study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the federal Highway Trust Fund could be in a deficit situation by 2008, with tax receipts falling $55 billion short of covering what is currently authorized under SAFETEA-LU.

Another reason is that in recent years, fiscal crises and other priorities led some state governments to cut back on highway transportation spending and/or divert highway user fees to pay for other programs. So from an industry perspective it seems logical that state and local governments are the place to help grow the highway construction market.

A number of states have started investing once more in their road and bridge network. According to a recent USA Today article, governors and legislative leaders from at least a dozen states, including New York, Texas and Ohio, are expected to announce significant highway construction plans early this year, in time for state legislative action. Other states planning large highway construction projects include Indiana, Missouri, Illinois and Washington State.

In addition to increased tax revenue from a healthier economy, state officials also are looking at bonding, increasing tolls and authorizing the construction of private toll roads to address their highway transportation funding challenges. USA Today reported that Americans also have become more receptive to funding highway construction, with more than 75% of transportation bond issues approved by voters nationwide since November 2004. Most recently (November 2005), voters in New York and Maine passed major bonding referendums.

A growing number of highway construction industry groups have been active at the state level in helping to create an environment for increased road and bridge funding by partnering with TRIP to generate timely news coverage of their key highway transportation funding messages. TRIP reports detail road and bridge conditions, travel trends, traffic-safety figures, traffic-congestion levels and the importance of an efficient highway system to a region’s economic competitiveness. Often, they provide a snapshot of a state’s highway transportation system, emphasizing the importance of regular infrastructure improvements in meeting future mobility needs. Partnering with state industry groups, TRIP released nine customized reports in 2005: New York, Nevada, Mississippi, Indiana, California, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Colorado and Maine.

Taking advantage of this year’s 50th anniversary of the Interstate Highway System, TRIP is planning to release 15 to 20 customized state interstate “future needs” reports that will highlight the vital role that the Interstate Highway System played in America’s economic success in the 20th century. These interstate reports also will point out the need to continue that trend and ensure that we have a highway transportation system that will meet the current and future needs of the 21st century.

About The Author: Wilkins is executive director of TRIP, Washington, D.C.

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