Congress passed a $10.8 billion highway bill before adjourning for the summer and President Obama signed it, so it looks like the nation’s highway maintenance and construction will be funded through May 2015. But it’s kind of like wrapping a bandage around a busted arm.
Make no mistake, this system is still broken. We’ve just kicked the can down the road a few months so that the next Congress can argue about how to keep the nation’s vital transportation infrastructure from sinking further in future years.
This is serious business, folks. You can make the best precast products in the world, but if your shipments are getting stalled in traffic or diverted for miles because of poor roads, some of your profit is going up in smoke.
In an industry where profit margins can be razor thin, you’ve got to find every possible efficiency. And so does just about every other manufacturer of any type of product made in the U.S.A. Not to mention the possibility of another major infrastructure failure like the 1-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis in 2007. It adds up to billions of dollars of waste every year and creates an endless drag on the economy.
Most precasters who make infrastructure products would be naturally disposed to supporting funding infrastructure maintenance and improvements. There are a variety of proposals out there, but the current funding mechanism looks more like accounting hocus pocus than anything resembling a meaningful fix.
Bill Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, supported the short-term emergency fix, but still favors a long-term bill. Shuster said in a July 10 press release that “a long-term reauthorization bill remains a top priority for the Transportation Committee.” While the funding details are still up for debate, a long-term bill will not likely include an increase in the 18.4 cents per gallon gasoline tax. Instead of raising the gas tax, this bill would instead rely on other methods of funding that might provide a more permanent fix.
While the details are still sketchy, NPCA favors the Shuster approach. It would make a lot of sense to simply raise the gas tax and index it to inflation and fuel efficiency, but that’s not an option because there is too much opposition, including the President. So a funding package needs to be crafted that would lead to a long-term bill. Instead of careening from one funding crisis to the next, the certainty in the funding picture would enable DOTs to pull some of those major multi-year highway projects off the shelf and put some people to work improving our highways. Here’s hoping that the next Congress will be able to shift this thing out of neutral and get something done.