- Condition and capacity - Both the condition and capacity of highways and roadways in the United States are sorely lacking … and well documented. Road builders and agencies have been lagging behind for generations as federal funding has fallen short of the critical needs of our system.
- Jobs - The overall construction industry is still facing unemployment in the range of 20 percent or more. Transportation construction plays a vital role in our nation's economy, not only by providing well-paying, permanent employment, but also by supporting business and commerce in the timely shipment of goods to market.
- Competition - In nations such as Russia, Brazil, India, and China, there are large scale investments being made in highways and other surface transportation infrastructure. It is no coincidence that these nations are emerging not only as economic superpowers, but also formidable political powers, as well.
"The short-term gains realized from the ARRA will be lost without a robust highway bill now. It is for this reason the American Concrete Pavement Association is urging quick passage of a multi-year highway bill, as well as the required funding mechanism, such as an increase in the federal motor fuels tax."
CC: The much anticipated highway bill remains stalled. Do you see Congress passing the bill soon after the November elections? If so, what impact will it have on the highway industry?
Wathne, ACPA: "We do not anticipate the highway bill being passed this year, even though we remain hopeful that Congress will muster the will to tackle the challenge before the end of the year. The answer to the question of what impact it will have on the concrete pavement industry will depend largely on the scale of the program. Even so, we expect the bill, when signed into law, will help reduce the high unemployment in the construction industry; create good jobs; and allow companies and agencies to plan for both the short-term and long-term needs of the federal-aid highway system."
Leininger, NRMCA: "The short answer is simple: Congress won't touch a new transportation bill at earliest, until 2011. The most we will see on the transportation front before 2011 is Congress passing another extension before their winter recess to fund transportation at the minimum levels from January 1, 2011 until roughly the spring of 2011; when the Highway Trust Fund is thought to run out of money again.
"This is the best case scenario. Given the current political and economic climates, it is possible that a new comprehensive transportation bill won't be seen until after 2011. This continued cycle will probably leave the RMC industry in the same state it is now. However, with new regulations, the approaching depletion of ARRA funds, and the uncertainty of when a new highway bill will appear or its amount, this could make for a bleaker outlook in 2011."
Says Leininger, "Simply offering extension after extension of the highway bill does not instill consumer confidence. Extending the highway bill beyond the end of the year fails the RMC industry, it fails the transportation industry, and it fails the U.S. economy. Congress must act swiftly when leaders return after the elections to pass meaningful transportation legislation."
Sullivan, PCA: "The administration became sidetracked with the health care, and now Congress has an anti-spending mentality. It is unlikely that we will see a highway bill in fiscal 2012 and maybe not until 2013. In the meantime, another extension will be necessary. It's not just economics, it's also politics."
Highway Trust Fund
CC: What does the future hold for the Highway Trust Fund (HTF)? Where will additional funds come from knowing that alternative-fueled vehicles are gaining in popularity and the gas tax remains unchanged?
Leininger, NRMCA: "The future of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) is not looking good. The combination of higher miles-per-gallon vehicles, alternative fuels, and people altogether driving less, has wreaked havoc on the HTF. In addition, SAFETEA-LU established that most funding mechanisms for transportation be depleted by its expiration, forcing Congress to act in a timely manner on reauthorization. Since Congress has failed to act on reauthorization, this has added an additional layer of complexity to simply maintaining the HTF let alone creating new revenues. This has left the HTF continuously bankrupt, and in need of multiple bailouts from the general fund since even before the expiration of the current highway bill in September 2009.
"With zero interest on the part of the White House or Congress to raise the gas tax or index it, or even pull the trigger on new funding mechanisms, the HTF has become obsolete. This leaves very few avenues to fund transportation. It is thought that a new transportation bill, whenever it's introduced and passed, will only fund maintenance on our nation's transportation network and not updates or any new construction. (Although, how that will be paid for is even up in the air)."