Senators call for peers to get with the program
With time running out on the current federal funding plan for highways and transit, trucking groups have renewed the call for a stable, long-term solution. The plea comes as the Senators who pushed through the MAP-21 funding bill three years ago are again pressing their lawmaking peers to see the benefits of coming up with a multi-year plan—and the damage done by short-term extensions.
American Trucking Assns. President and CEO Bill Graves urged the Obama administration and Congress to “to step up and deliver a plan – and funding – for the transportation system our country needs and deserves” before the May 31 expiration of the current highway program.
“One of the things that makes this country great is our mobility – the freedom to travel this country without restriction,” Graves said. “However, we are threatening our ability to smoothly and safely move goods and people through our collective inaction. We again call on our leaders in Washington to find the appropriate funding to pay for the improved and expanded roads and bridges we need to continue moving America forward into the 21st century as the economic leaders we believe ourselves to be.”
Trucking Moves America Forward (TMAF), the industry-wide image and education effort, likewise is calling on lawmakers to pass a bill to safeguard America’s federal highway program.
“Our federal highway program is at a pivotal crossroads, and the passage of a long-term highway bill is critical to modernizing our aging infrastructure and ensuring our roads are safe for our professional drivers and America’s families alike,” said Kevin Burch, co-chairman of TMAF, president of Jet Express, Inc., and second vice chairman of ATA.
The professional trucking industry drives $682 billion in revenue every year, making it a vital contributor to the nation’s economy, TMAF emphasized.
Additionally, nearly a third of the nation’s roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and one out of every nine bridges are structurally deficient, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers report card. TMAF advocates for infrastructure spending to improve highway networks that are most critical to the movement of freight and interstate travel.
And improving the highway system also prioritizes the safety of the motoring public, TMAF adds.
“Well-maintained roads and bridges are safer roads and bridges,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “Safety is further improved when investments are focused on adding capacity where needed to reduce congestion.”
Earlier this week TMAF launched an advertising campaign to reach lawmakers on Capitol Hill to reinforce the positive impact professional drivers have as the nation’s chief movers of interstate commerce. The campaign includes a series of print, digital and radio advertisements placed in Washington news outlets.
“An updated transportation network is crucial to our nation’s success. Congress should stop punting and pass a long-term highway bill to improve our nation’s roads and bridges before the current authorization expires in May,” Burch added.
On Wednesday, Sen. James Inhofe and Sen. Barbara Boxer, the chairman and the ranking member of the Senate committee charged with developing a highway bill, rallied with by a broad coalition of businesses, labor, and transportation organizations to highlight the importance of a long-term surface transportation bill and the need for Congress to act.
The two senators, a conservative and a liberal, have used the Environment and Public Works committee as a bully pulpit for bipartisanship. Inhofe has said short-term extensions are costly and “not the conservative solution” while Boxer has said that she and conservatives “don’t see eye to eye on much,” but that keeping roads and bridges from crumbling should be a priority for all lawmakers.
Boxer said at the Capitol press event that a proposal to provide refunds to middle-income families will be tied to an increase in the federal tax on gasoline and diesel, the source of income for the Highway Trust Fund.
Over in the House, reports suggest a bill is about to be introduced by Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH) that would tie the gas tax to inflation and create a bicameral committee to explore a long-term, reliable highway funding source.
Also this week, Transportation Sec. Anthony Foxx told a gathering of construction unions that state and local transportation projects are already being delayed or cancelled because of funding uncertainty.
“We need to say ‘hell no’ to short-term funding,” Foxx said.