What a bus wreck

State lawmakers return to action, and many say they are committed to transportation funding

September 03, 2013

Many politicians are returning from their summer break, and I am a little nervous as to who is driving the bus.

Several states are starting to feel the hurt from flat spending at the federal level and deteriorating gas-tax receipts. The state of Pennsylvania was forced to put weight restrictions on an additional 1,000 bridges (bringing the total count to over 3,000) because lawmakers have had nothing to offer in terms of a new highway-spending package. In Ohio they are bonding against future toll revenue on the Ohio Turnpike. The move is supposed to generate $1.5 billion—not nearly enough to address all of the high-priority projects. It’s a lazy tactic if you ask me—the act of just borrowing until you cannot borrow any more all because you do not have the political guts to put something worthwhile in place.

Then there is the state of Kentucky. There, politicians will be talking about completely eliminating the state gas tax in favor of an increase in the sales tax—from 6 cents per dollar to 7 cents. Experts say the modest spike—which would help pay for the Brent Spence Bridge—will bring in 42% more than the fuel charge. However, those in command are at odds over how exactly it should be executed. The fuel tax is embedded in the state constitution, and many are claiming it will take an amendment to completely delete it and insert the increase in the sales tax. And where is the assurance that all the money generated from the new increase will go toward road and bridge improvements? This is what lawmakers need to work out, and whether or not that will actually happen is yet to be determined.

Washington state legislators have kicked the highway-funding quandary all the way into 2014. After the Senate obliterated a $10 billion plan, which included money for the controversial Columbia River Crossing, it was decided to take a few months to re-launch another effort.

MAP-21 expires next September, and the last I checked public construction continues to drop at a double-digit rate. The situation is starting to turn dire. State representatives and senators have the power to put their heads down and charge through with a plan, but the resistance, surprisingly, continues to be there. I simply cannot understand it. There really is no explanation, but the day or reckoning will happen sooner rather than later. Wasn’t there a bus on the I-35W bridge wreckage in Minnesota? Yeah, I thought so.

Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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