Funding approved ... what’s next?

The $8 billion bailout of the Highway Trust Fund finally received House and Senate approval the second week of September. Without the badly needed infusion from the federal government’s general funds, the Highway Trust Fund was projected to run out by the end of September. The shortfall was blamed on the soaring gas prices which forced many Americans to conserve on fuel purchases and in many cases switch to more fuel-efficient cars.

Failure to replenish the Highway Trust Fund would have resulted in stalled road projects and the lost of as many as several hundred thousand jobs, according to some industry sources.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the pending HTF’s insolvency would have forced the department to cut reimbursements to federal-aid highway projects.

So while it looks like current projects will be able to move forward, the issue of funding is far from being resolved. The HTF situation could very well be a prelude to what is expected to be a cantankerous debate during the highway bill reauthorization process. The current highway bill — the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETY-LU) — will expire on September 30, 2009.

With the presidential election less than a month away, highway funding is far from the leading issues that are being addressed by the candidates. Both McCain and Obama have promised voters everything they want to hear, but neither has outlined the specifics as to how they’ll deliver once in office — not a big surprise as campaigns go. Obama has proposed a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank, while McCain has promised to veto pork-barrel projects as their positions in support of infrastructure funding.

But if the economy is a major concern for all Americans, specific economic plans need to be presented and discussed by the candidates, and the importance of substantial highway funding needs to be part of that discussion. It’s not simply a matter of the jobs represented by the highway construction industry; it’s more importantly about the overall economic vibrancy of this country. Without continued investment in our transportation system, economic growth is limited.

If the current Highway Trust Fund, or any other funding mechanism, is inadequate to meet the need, then our government needs to implement a way to support the work that needs to be done.

As an industry, we must continue our grassroots efforts to keep reminding our elected officials just how critical highway funding is to our nation. It’s not an issue that grabs the headlines like the ongoing war in Iraq, health care and education, but it deserves more attention under the overall economic discussion that has and continues to be a daily headline.

Hopefully, our presidential candidates can get beyond the “lipstick on a pig” babble and provide some intelligent discussion on the real issues.

Greg Udelhofen, Editor

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