With infrastructure funding still in the offing, our industry must remain vigilant

This Final Say column published as "We’re all in this together" in Spring 2019 issue of Traffic & Transit

Nathan Smith / May 08, 2019
Nathan Smith Final Say

As we enter spring in 2019, an infrastructure package continues to be a topic of hearings, press conferences and discussion on Capitol Hill. The challenge is that every day that passes is a day closer to Election Day 2020, when we will have congressional and presidential elections—and possibly, potentially, a shift in controlling power in Washington. However, there is still time for an infrastructure plan to come together, be voted on by both chambers and signed into law by the president.

But as an industry, we must keep moving the ball down the field.

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have held hearings on infrastructure this year already, including an ever-important House Ways and Means Committee infrastructure hearing on funding and revenue.

Currently, there are efforts to continue down a dual track: one track of an infrastructure package and another track of a surface transportation authorization. However, there are some on Capitol Hill who would like to merge those two tracks.

The current surface transportation authorization expires Oct. 1, 2020, a mere 33 days before Election Day. As that date becomes closer and closer, state departments of transportation will begin to slow down lettings of projects due to the uncertainty of future policy and funding authorizations, which will in turn lead to construction companies tightening their hiring of employees and purchasing of equipment and technology, which will again in turn directly impact the manufacturers of transportation construction equipment nationwide—not to mention the myriad subcontractors that, in large part, depend on the availability of larger contractors bidding out various aspects of their contracts. In short, a potential ripple effect could leach its way into every aspect of the construction industry.

We have seen this historically as both SAFETEA-LU and MAP-21 approached their expiration dates (and subsequent extensions). Especially in the roadway safety infrastructure sector, a slowdown of contracts being let by the states will lead to fewer safety projects being undertaken and completed around the country. The impact of this on the general public may therefore be assumed.

The reason a reauthorization of the FAST Act and an infrastructure package is so challenging is because additional revenue is required in order to pay for these investments. Revenue is going to be one of the main political challenges in enacting an infrastructure package and FAST Act reauthorization into law.

There is a need not only for the construction industry to speak out in support of these initiatives, but also for voices of the users of the nation’s transportation system as well as non-traditional partners like retailers and farmers, to add their voices to the general chorus. Americans take our nation’s transportation network for granted until something fails or a catastrophe occurs. In order for a bold, robustly funded infrastructure package and FAST Act reauthorization to be successfully enacted into law, transportation users must speak out loudly, every day, in favor of congressional and White House leadership and action.

Additionally, roadway safety infrastructure projects must be a top priority in the next infrastructure legislation, especially when Congress may be asking the motoring public to pay more for transportation investments. Not only will voters want to experience an upgraded transportation network, they will expect that network to be as safe as possible. This is Congress’ opportunity to make meaningful investments which will help reduce fatalities and serious injuries on U.S. roads.

When any member of our working society leaves their home in the morning each day, it’s our responsibility as a transportation stakeholder community to ensure that they arrive home safe each night. We’re all in this together.

About the Author

Smith is vice president of government relations for the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA).

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