Last October, Congress’s extension of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act bought lawmakers a year to continue working on a long-term solution for federal transportation funding. With the expiration of that measure looming this fall, it is critical that legislators come together to pass a solution under a fast-approaching deadline. Despite the challenge, there’s cause for optimism among industry members and legislators alike thanks to a new administration with a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure plan and a bipartisan understanding of the importance of roadway safety.
Nate Smith, vice president of Engagement at the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA), says he expects House and Senate committee chairs will push their members to get legislative text crafted before the summer. This would mean a long-term highway funding plan could pass well before the Oct. 1 deadline arrives.
Smith notes that when they were presidential candidates, both President Joe Biden and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg included increasing funding for the Highway Safety Improvement Program within their campaign platforms, a likely first in campaign history. While running for president, Buttigieg also called for a national Vision Zero plan to dramatically decrease the number of roadway fatalities.
“One of the good things about roadway safety is that both sides of the aisle are supportive,” Smith said. “I am confident that safety will be included in the next highway bill.”
U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) says he’s also confident Congress can move a robust infrastructure package with a focus on roadway safety, given a bipartisan appetite for infrastructure and President Biden’s prioritization of the issue.
“Roadway safety is an important element for any work on infrastructure, and it’s also a motivating factor to get this done. Road quality and safety standards should match a modernized America,” Boyle said.
While there’s a sense of optimism as lawmakers shift their focus to infrastructure, Smith says it’s important for ATSSA members to engage with their representatives to ensure the bill includes adequate funding for roadway safety.
For ATSSA member Cecil Brown, National Sales & Marketing Manager of Hill & Smith, work zone and transportation safety device manufacturer, that advocacy work has been a top priority over his several years as a member. Brown understands the need for long-term certainty in transportation funding, not only for DOTs but also for industry businesses.
“A long-term highway bill allows companies to invest in workers and equipment, knowing that states will continue to fund road projects for the foreseeable future,” Brown said.
Having participated in in-person Fly-In events to Capitol Hill in the past, Brown has continued staying in touch with lawmakers virtually and plans on attending ATSSA’s virtual Fly-In on April 21-22. He said connecting with legislators via Zoom and email over the last year has in some ways made things easier.
“We were actually on one call here recently where a Congresswoman was virtually attending a committee meeting and voting on committee matters while she was talking to us about highway safety,” he said. “It’s been fun to stay even a little more engaged than we’re used to because of this virtual world we’ve been living in.”
When speaking with lawmakers about the issue of safety, Brown says he makes an effort to give concrete examples to help bring depth to the conversation. While everyone can get behind the idea of “safety,” it helps to educate lawmakers on what exactly that means, whether its guard rails, improved pavement markings or creating safe work zones.
When it comes to how an infrastructure bill will be paid for, Boyle said it will likely be a combination of bonds and revenue increases. For skeptics of big spending on infrastructure, he encourages understanding it as an investment in our country.
“Infrastructure spending stimulates growth, creates jobs, raises quality of living, and builds resiliency that ends up saving us money elsewhere,” he said.
While an infrastructure bill containing roadway safety measures is expected to pass in time this year, industry members can still use their voice to let their representatives know what safety funding means to them.
“Legislators have a variety of different things that cross their desk every day, and without ATSSA members letting them know that investments in roadway safety infrastructure projects are incredibly important, the outcome might not be as desirable as we want,” Brown said.
To learn more about ATSSA’s advocacy to advance federal and state roadway safety policies and how to get involved, visit ATSSA.com.