August 1, 2012
On June 29 — just before the ninth SAFETEA-LU extension expired — Congress passed Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21). Within hours of House and Senate votes, construction industry spokesmen praised Congressional leaders for creating stability in the hard-hit construction industry. And rightly so. It took significant effort from key Conference Committee members to resolve differences in the disparate funding plans.
There are some provisions worth celebrating in this legislation. The most notable include the following:
• Implementation of a streamlined environmental permitting process;
• Consolidation of numerous highway programs into four core programs;
• Replacement of controversial formula factors with a guaranteed minimum of 95 percent of the local Highway Trust Fund (HTF) payments being returned to the state; and
• Elimination of earmarks.
Provisions that will shorten the extensive lead time in bridge and road construction are quite welcome. So, too, is the end of earmarks that led to “the bridge to nowhere” fiasco. That said, the new legislation falls short on numerous accounts. In terms of investment, it represents an inflation-adjusted 27-month extension of Fiscal Year 2012 funding levels. It also fails to implement long-term funding solutions. To keep the HTF solvent for the next two years, it will receive revenues from changes to federal pensions, as well as funds from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank trust fund. Finally, MAP-21’s duration is half a year less than the 33 months of short-term SAFETEA-LU extensions the construction industry has endured.
Given the precedent of delays and stopgap measures, MAP-21 needs to represent the opening dialogue in Congress’ discussion on infrastructure funding, not the discussion itself. The nation’s infrastructure needs continue to escalate. The longer it takes for Congress to address them, the more difficult they are to resolve. The same determination shown in getting MAP-21 approved needs to be brought to bear on a long-term solution.
The construction industry has won a hard-fought victory, but can’t afford to rest. Remain engaged with Congress. Take a few moments and e-mail your representatives and senators. Just say, “Thank you sir, may I have another?”
3 Things I Learned From this Issue
1. Maintenance ranks number one as an equipment spending priority, page 18.
2. Screens are often the biggest culprits of dust, page 23.
3. MSHA can demand records not required to be kept, page 42.