While the economic stimulus infusion of the recent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided much needed funding for the surface transportation industry, the long-term solution rests on the upcoming multi-year highway and transit reauthorization bill.
Once again the solvency of the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) is at stake as revenues continue to fall short of construction needs. The situation is not simply the result of insufficient gas tax revenue caused by higher crude oil prices that forced many motorists to cut back on driving or the fact that many motorists are purchasing more fuel-efficient vehicles. And it's not a result of the fact that the gas tax has not been increased since the early 1990s.
The bottom line is that our elected officials have not come up with a sufficient means to not only maintain our current surface infrastructure, but to also improve and expand the system to allow for future economic growth.
Current revenues flowing into the HTF will fall approximately $90 billion short of what's needed to just maintain our highway and public transportation over the next six years.
Failure to come up with a sustainable long-term solution to fund our surface transportation needs will wipe out any gain the economic stimulus funding provided, including the jobs the funding was intended to generate. That's why it's so important for the Obama Administration and Congress to quickly address and pass a well-funded highway reauthorization bill. The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee is expected to act on the bill in July. The Senate transportation committees are also moving forward on their versions of the reauthorization legislation.
According to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), there are encouraging signs that substantial funding will be approved, with "a broad consensus among stakeholders in the transportation construction, general business, and public sector communities about the need to increase the federal motor fuels tax and other HTF revenues."
Success of the reauthorization bill will rely heavily on the grassroots efforts of transportation construction professionals and business leaders. This is definitely a time when all of us need to turn up the heat on our elected officials to make sure they know just how important this bill is. Without adequate funding our current transportation system will continue to deteriorate and this country's economic vitality will lag behind other global competitors.
Greg Udelhofen, Editor