June 1, 2009
Is the stimulus plan working? What about transportation funding?
The stimulus plan and transportation funding are two of the most hotly debated subjects in the news. There are many unanswered questions. Will the stimulus plan work? Will the funds get out quickly enough to make a difference? Where will necessary additional transportation funds come from? How will we ever pay off the debt?
According to a press release from the Associated General Contractors of America (AGCA), the stimulus plan, the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, is working by providing much-needed relief for the construction industry. The construction sector has suffered significantly higher unemployment levels than the rest of the economy. Construction unemployment is near 19 percent, while the overall national unemployment rates remain around 9 percent.
In the AGCA press release, Ken Simonson, chief economist for the AGCA, said the intent of the infrastructure portion of the stimulus plan was clear: put unemployed construction workers back to work. “Early reports indicate that the infrastructure piece of stimulus is beginning to do exactly what was intended,” he said, “put construction workers back on the job.”
Simonson said that as more stimulus-funded projects are awarded, a growing number of companies are reporting new jobs and are rehiring laid-off workers. Some companies have cancelled layoffs and plan to hire new employees. He said that stimulus the funds were keeping a bad business environment from getting substantially worse for many companies.
As for transportation funding in general, that issue is still being debated on Capitol Hill as Congress tries to reach a budget agreement. At press time, a tentative agreement was reached on the Fiscal Year 2010 budget. According to the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association’s (NSSGA) eDigest & Washington Watch newsletter, the final budget agreement accepts the higher House transportation and transit funding figure and the House reserve fund language. Both the House- and Senate-passed budget resolutions rejected Obama’s proposal that would have eliminated the budget firewalls that sequester gas-user fees into the Highway Trust Fund for use on transportation projects.
According to the newsletter, the bill is tentatively supposed to be transformative in nature and compress the 108 highway programs into four broad sections including critical asset preservation, highway safety, surface transportation, and congestion mitigation/air quality improvement. The critical asset preservation section would include bridge repair, highway maintenance, and the national highway system. The safety section would include rail crossings, motorcycle safety, and rural road safety. The surface transportation section would contain the primary allocation to the states and transportation enhancements. The final section would contain the congestion mitigation program. This breakdown list is tentative and may change as the bill is finalized.
If the $450-billion figure is the total number for the highway bill, additional funding is deemed necessary – possibly $100 billion, according to the newsletter. Without a road user fee or an increase in the gas tax, it is unclear, at this time, where the additional funds will come from.
The bottom line
The Bottom Line Report released by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the American Public Transportation Association states that by 2015, governments at all levels will need to more than double their spending on highways and bridges to keep up with traffic demands and our aging highways and bridges. In 2006, federal, state, and local governments spent $79 billion on highways and bridges, but an investment of $166 billion a year is required if the number of miles driven increases as expected. Another $13 billion would be needed annually for environmental mitigation, highway operations, safety programs, and security.
Using modeling techniques to project the impacts of highway improvement projects, the report indicates that roads will be markedly smoother, speed levels will increase by about 5 percent, and hours of delay will decline by 16.5 percent. User costs would drop by about $27 per 1,000 miles driven, saving each driver an estimated $400 per year.
The report chronicles many factors including:
Using concrete for railroad ties
Scientists report that concrete railway cross-ties could be an eco-friendly alternative to those made of wood. According to an article by Tomasz Sienicki on physorg.com, a new study found that emissions of carbon dioxide from production of concrete sleepers are up to six times less than emissions associated with those made of timber.
According to a study by Robert Crawford, long-standing concerns surround the environmental impact of harvesting large amounts of timbers for this purpose. The reinforced concrete sleepers offer not only less impact on the environment, but greater strength, durability, and long-term cost savings.
Critics of using concrete sleepers claim that their manufacture increases greenhouse gas emissions, but a study of the emissions of wooden and reinforced concrete sleepers based on one kilometer length of track over a 100-year life cycle found that emissions from the concrete sleepers can be from two to six times lower than those from timber.
The study should be available in the June issue of the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science & Technology.
Obama proposes MSHA funding increase
President Barack Obama is proposing a slight increase in funding for federal mine safety enforcement, but wants to cut spending on the cleanup of abandoned coal mines, according to The Charleston Gazette. In May, the administration unveiled its figures for the 2010 budget, which included a nearly 2-percent, $7 million increase in funding for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Metal/non-metal enforcement would increase by nearly 5 percent, according to the newspaper.
The budget would include funds for 15 additional enforcement personnel for MSHA in the metal/non-metal section. According to the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association’s eDigest & Washington Watch newsletter, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said, “Under my watch, enforcement of our labor laws will be intensified to provide an effective deterrent to employers who put their workers’ lives at risk. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and MSHA will be about workers – not voluntary programs and alliances.”
Bill to reform OSHA introduced
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, recently introduced the Protecting America’s Workers Act, which would amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and raise civil and criminal penalties for violators. According to the NSSGA’s eDigest & Washington Watch, this marks an escalation in the effort to tighten the enforcement practices of OSHA. OSHA is also hiring more inspectors and launching a new program to intensify enforcement on negligent employers.
Chaney Enterprises was granted the 2009 Alliance for Workplace Excellence Award in March. The award highlights businesses that promote professional fulfillment and personal wellness at work, home, and in the community.
York Hill Trap Quarry Co.‘s vice president, Ric Suzio, was named the 2009 recipient of the Mark S. Walsh Leadership Award and honored at the NSSGA Young Leaders Annual Meeting. The award is presented to one active individual each year on the Young Leaders Council that exemplifies the leadership traits of professionalism, enthusiasm, and commitment, and whose efforts to improve and develop the image and programs of the Young Leaders are in keeping with the example set forth by the award.