At the same time that reports are cascading through Washington, D.C. describing the nation’s crumbling roads and failing bridges, we could be headed for a funding showdown that could put the brakes on current highway projects. The continuing resolution that funds the nation’s highway bill (SAFETEA-LU) is set to expire Sept. 30. That highway bill is funded similarly to the Federal Aviation Administration bill that recently stalled in Congress and shut down the FAA for two weeks, during which time all airport construction projects were halted.
While another extension of SAFETEA-LU would be considered routine in normal times, the partisan gridlock in Washington makes any long-term highway funding uncertain. The best that the precast industry could hope for right now is a continuation of the 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax, which would fund highway and bridge work at current levels and keep projects going.
The bickering over the highway bill will likely begin shortly after Congress returns to work after its summer recess. The American Society of Civil Engineers has already stepped into the debate by publishing a study that describes the economic impact that failing infrastructure has on society every day in the United States. According to the study, deteriorating infrastructure will “cost the American people more than 870,000 jobs and suppress the growth of the country’s gross domestic product by $3.1 trillion by 2020.” Not all of that is transportation infrastructure – municipal stormwater and wastewater systems are included, of course, as well as other vital infrastructure components. For most precasters, however, these are all nuts and bolts products that form a critical share of many precast businesses.
If you accept the conclusions of the ASCE study, the choice is pretty clear. Members of Congress – both parties – need to put aside the grandstanding, stay away from the TV cameras, stop the name-calling and sit down together in a room and start working on bold solutions to rebuild our infrastructure and put the construction industry back to work. That’s the message we should all be delivering to our Congressional delegations right now.
Do you agree with the conclusions of the ASCE Economic Impact Study? Check it out.