Here's to higher gas prices

Editorial for the April/May 2005 issue of Asphalt Contractor.

Complaining about rising gas prices is like complaining about pork-barrel politics. We don't like either, but we accept their reality.

First, an update on the highway reauthorization bill. The House passed the Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (TEA-LU), authorizing $284 billion for federal surface transportation programs for fiscal years 2004 to 2009. The bill is a significant increase over TEA-21's $218 billion. It now moves to the Senate, which is expected to begin working on its version shortly, and hopefully, a final bill can be approved by this summer. The Senate's version is pushing for a bill with a $300 billion price tag, but specifics on what the additional funding is targeting are unclear at this time. Hopefully, the proposed increase is not to support pork-barrel projects that could ultimately stall the process. After all, President Bush said he would sign a $284 billion bill and that's it.

But let's be honest. The bill already contains its share of pork (what a surprise). There are some funding requests for a few transportation-related museums included in the current bill. Okay, I can accept that. But there are also a few projects, like a horse trail, a bike and trolley path and a few other pet projects that are a bit of a stretch for our federally-funded transportation needs. That's the reality of politics in America. Approval of those projects generates votes from our political leaders to pass the bill and if that's what it takes to get the funding we need to maintain our highway system, then that's what it takes. As taxpaying motorists, we want good and safe roads. Contractors who build and maintain those roads want the business.

Now, let's talk about rising gas prices. I don't like it any more than you or anyone else, but if the state and federal highway user taxes tacked on to every gallon I pump into my car are spent on building and maintaining good roads, then I'm okay with the higher prices. And if your livelihood depends on road construction and maintenance, I'm willing to bet that you're okay with it too.

I would rather pay higher gas prices to maintain good roads then pay for realignments or other repairs on my car caused by a deteriorating road system. And I'd rather see lots of construction workers busy building and maintaining our roads, and earning a decent living than collecting an unemployment check.

So, while we don't like pork, which is inevitably supported by our income tax dollars, and we don't like higher gas prices, which inevitably reduces the discretionary dollars we have to spend, we accept the reality of both, knowing they're essential to the economic well-being of our country, our road construction industry and our personal lives.

Greg Udelhofen