The New Highway Bill - Is It All We Hoped For?

Just one day before the 9th extension of SAFETEA-LU was going to expire, lawmakers approved a two-year authorization of the federal surface transportation program – also known as MAP-21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century).

With a vote of 373-52 in the House and a vote of 74-19 in the Senate, Congress passed the first multi-year reauthorization in almost seven years and put an end to three years of short-term extensions that kept the asphalt industry in a constant state of uncertainty.

The bill authorizes $54.6 billion of annual funding, which is basically what we have now with a slight bump for inflation. President Obama signed the bill into law on July 6, and we all cheered then let out a sigh of relief. Now we have at least 27 months of funding certainty and program stability.

Many in the industry, including Pete Ruane, ARTBA president & CEO, and Mike Acott, NAPA president, praised the law. “The new law is truly a ‘good government’ measure that makes the significant program reforms necessary to set the stage for meaningful, transparent and accountable federal transportation investments in the future,” said Ruane.

Ruane points out that the law has no congressional earmarks and eliminates, consolidates or streamlines dozens of programs, giving state and local governments more decision-making control. It also opens the door to more private investment in large, congestion-busting transportation projects.

Acott gives a gold star to the Accelerated Implementation and Deployment of Pavement Technologies program that will help speed the deployment of pavement innovations, such as increased use of warm mix asphalt (WMA) and higher levels of reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP) and other recycled materials.

MAP-21 is not perfect, of course. Many of us were hoping for a program covering more than two years. And it fails to address the problem of long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which will run dry in 2015. To fully fund the HTF, the bill supplements it with an $18.8 billion transfer from the general fund and an additional $2.4 billion from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank trust fund.

I’ve talked about the HTF solvency problem in past columns and discussed various solutions, including the dreaded “raising of the gas tax” that no one wants to talk about. It’s time we get serious about how to fund the nation’s long-term investment in transportation. We have until Oct. 1, 2014, to come up with some solutions to the problem.

What do you think of MAP-21? I’d love to hear – e-mail me at Lisa.Cleaver@cygnus.com or call 800-547-7377, ext. 1673.

Thanks for reading!

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