As I write this column in mid-January, there is a small light of hope on the horizon that a highway transportation bill may actually be introduced by the time you read this in February. SAFETEA-LU, the current federal surface transportation bill, which has too many extensions to count at this point, will expire (again) on March 31.
There are several challenges with the highway bill. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wants to introduce an infrastructure-energy combination bill sometime by mid-February. That proposal – which shores up the nearly-exhausted Highway Trust Fund with drilling revenues – is under heavy scrutiny from Senate and House Democrats, says Politico. The top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), has said drilling leases won't raise enough money. And a gas tax increase has been ruled out by the House, Senate and White House.
The length of the bill is also at issue. House Transportation Chair John Mica supports a six-year bill. Most public agencies – and those in our industry – applaud this as it provides financial certainty regardless of how much total funding is provided. The Senate prefers a two-year bill.
According to Transportation Issues Daily, there are pros and cons to each scenario. A two-year bill will have higher annual funding and not have to raise as much money. While it provides longer-term certainty, a six-year bill might result in lower annual funding and having to raise more money because gas tax revenues continue to decline.
At this point we don't know what type of bill or what length of bill will actually be introduced and eventually voted on. There are many working tirelessly to get a bill passed. One example is The Road Connection, which is an innovative campaign driven by KPI-JCI and Astec Mobile Screens and supported by industry organizations designed to spotlight the need for infrastructure funding and increase pressure on government to fund road construction.
Throughout 2012, The Road Connection truck will travel the highways and interstates to all corners of the nation and host and attend dealer stops, demo days, open houses and industry tradeshows.
"This is a crucial time for Americans to push for a transportation bill," says Joe Vig, group vice president for KPI-JCI and Astec Mobile Screens. "It's critical that we unite with others in our industry and make it clear that a multi-year, federal highway bill is absolutely vital in continuing America's prosperity. By investing in our transportation system, we not only improve our quality of life and infrastructure, but we also put more Americans back to work."
I couldn't have said it better myself.