Consensus Needed on Federal Transportation Policy

June 23, 2009

Recent news from Washington reveals a lack of consensus between the Obama administration and congressional leaders regarding reauthorization of the federal highway funding measure, which is set to expire Sept. 30.

Rep. James L. Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman, introduced a multi-year transportation reauthorization bill last week that was immediately embraced by the highway construction industry.  On the same day, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the administration supports an 18-month extension of the current funding measure and does not advocate increasing the federal gasoline tax at present.

ARTBA President & CEO Pete Ruane said “there is no reason to put off until tomorrow” a comprehensive reauthorization package.  Also endorsed by Rep. John Mica, the ranking Republican on the committee, the congressional proposal keeps the gas tax on the table.

“Action on a robust, reform-oriented multi-year reauthorization bill, as proposed by the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee leadership, is the only way to combat the combination of an economic downturn and increasing state budget difficulties,” Ruane said.  “As history shows, putting the federal transportation programs in limbo contributes to uncertainty at the state level and leads to overall market stagnation.”

News accounts described it as a battle for who gets to call the shots over federal transportation policy, single-party control of the administration and both houses of Congress notwithstanding.

“Putting a band-aid on this problem for another 18 months won’t make it any easier to achieve a solution,” said PHIA Managing Director Jason Wagner.  “Nearly everyone agrees that this problem must be addressed.  On top of that, highway construction projects can help pull the economy out of the recession, as well as provide for the capacity to grow the economy in the future.”

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