The 2014 Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC) Fly-In got off to a roaring start Tuesday afternoon in Washington D.C. with a line-up of transportation industry all stars. This year's theme: Fix the Highway Trust Fund!
Pete Ruane, president & CEO of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) and co-chair of the TCC, welcomed several hundred registered attendees to the legislative briefing - a rally of sorts to get the crowd of road building & bridge contractors, industry unions, construction manufacturers and any other person with a vested interest in the country's infrastructure pumped up for Wednesday''s face-to-face meetings with legislators on Capitol Hill.
Ruane said the objective of this year's Fly-In is simple: get members of Congress to fix the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which is heading toward bankruptcy in the next few weeks, and pass a long-term surface transportation bill. Most in the industry would like to see a six-year bill as opposed to the most recent MAP-21 bill that only covered two years of funding and expires Sept. 30.
"Your job tomorrow is simple," said Ruane to the crowd. "Just tell your legislator ... I'm just here to ask you to do your bloody job!"
Other speakers at the event offered different solutions to both the HTF insolvency and the upcoming highway bill reauthorization.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore), member of the House Ways & Means Committee, said the best and quickest fix for the HTF problem was to raise the gas tax. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), ranking Republican of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, disagreed and said that in a slow economic recovery, you "can't just raise the gas tax."
Several members of the audience disagreed with Sen. Vitter. Rick Patek, group vice president of Astec Industries Inc. and 2014 Chairman of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), said that many in the audience agreed with Rep. Blumenauer that raising the gas tax was the best solution. "I understand some families may have a hard time supporting an increase in the gas tax, but we need a long-term solution," he told Sen. Vitter during a question and answer period. "A user fee/gas tax doesn't solve all the problems, but we'd like to see some action toward solving this issue now."
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx made a brief appearance to tout the multi-year surface transportation reauthorization proposal, the GROW AMERICA Act (Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America), he unveiled with President Obama in May.
Some of the highlights of the act include:
- Addressing the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund and providing $87 billion to address the nation’s backlog of deficient bridges and aging transit systems;
- Providing certainty to state and local governments that must engage in long-term planning;
- Reducing project approval and permitting timelines while delivering better outcomes for communities and the environment;
- Bolstering efficient and reliable freight networks to support trade and economic growth; and
- Creating incentives to better align planning and investment decisions to comprehensively address regional economic needs while strengthening local decision-making.
The last speaker of the afternoon was Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), Chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. While Rep. Shuster says his goal is to create a long-term bill, he asked for patience in getting that done. "We may need a short-term extension to get all the pieces in place in order to create a long-term surface transportation bill." He suggested a long-term bill may be ready by Spring 2015.
Ruane finished the afternoon with this: "Short-term solutions and patches aren't going to work. Then we just have to keep revisiting this. We can't go through the delays again like we did several years ago. We need a long-term transportation bill - a six-year bill that is paid for is what we want."
The Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC) is a partnership of 31 national associations and construction unions representing hundreds of thousands of individuals with a direct market interest in federal transportation programs.