While we wait for reauthorization of a federal surface transportation program, Congressional leaders continue debate (mid-December) over proposed health care reform as mounting pressure to stimulate the economy and create jobs puts their multitasking ability to the test.
There are several scenarios floating around that suggest current levels of transportation funding will probably be extended for another six months, or a possible two-year front-loaded $100 billion transportation bill that would be followed by a long-term infrastructure-funding program, which would include a much-needed increase in the federal gas tax.
Current discussion on a jobs creation bill could provide another boost in highway stimulus funding. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) recently presented a report in Washington D.C. identifying 9,500 'ready-to-go' highway, bridge, transit, port, rail and aviation projects worth more than $69 billion and that would create hundreds of thousands jobs if funding is provided. More than 75% of those projects are highway projects, which translates into asphalt production and placement.
According to AASHTO, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funded 10,600 transportation projects as of November 20. Of the 9,300 highway construction projects authorized to date, more than half were either under construction or completed.
At the recent jobs summit in Washington, local and state government officials, transportation industry executives and union officials lobbied their case for infrastructure spending as a jobs-creating solution. President Obama was somewhat skeptical about whether or not current infrastructure stimulus funding provided an immediate boost in jobs. He recognizes the long-term benefits of infrastructure investments, and he will likely promote additional increases in infrastructure spending beyond what's already earmarked in the ARRA $787 billion economic stimulus package, but you can also expect proposed tax credits for small businesses that hire new workers and buy new equipment.
If additional highway/bridge stimulus funding is added to ARRA's $26.7 billion highway/bridge funding portion as a way to create additional jobs, and then a longer-term surface transportation funding solution is put in place, it could be the makings of a perfect storm - in a good way. It will provide construction companies with the confidence they need to invest in new equipment. Call it jobs creation or additional stimulus support, the investment will put more folks back to work out in the field and inside factories.
It is clear that Obama and those working inside the Beltway understand the critical importance of creating jobs and infrastructure investment is more than just a viable solution. Sure, the constituency back home is deeply concerned about how all this spending and ever-bloating deficit will eventually be paid for, but Congressional leaders who want to keep their jobs this fall also know they better do everything in their power to create jobs for the folks who have the power to say 'yea' or 'nay' in November.
Greg Udelhofen, Editor