Another short-term extension of the highway bill prevented a shutdown, but the lack of long-term funding continues to undermine the construction industry.
By Tina Grady Barbaccia, News and Digital Editor
Just two days before the latest extension of the current highway bill — Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) — was set to expire, the House and Senate on March 29 approved a 90-day extension of the federal highway funding.
The Senate quickly passed the legislation and President Obama signed it without fanfare. This measure extends the current funding for road and transit projects until June 30, making this the ninth extension of SAFETEA-LU. The original bill expired on Sept. 30, 2009. SAFETEA-LU’s predecessor, The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), enacted on Aug. 10, 2005, underwent 12 extensions throughout a two-year period.
“While we supported the extension approved today [March 29] to prevent a shutdown of essential infrastructure improvements across the nation, that support should not be confused as acceptance of inaction on a multi-year reauthorization bill,” Transportation Construction Coalition Co-Chairs T. Peter Ruane, president and CEO of American Road & Transportation Builders Association, and Stephen Sandherr, CEO of Associated General Contractors of America, said in a joint statement.
“Our members are growing increasingly frustrated that Congress seems incapable of passing critical legislation that improves the flow of commerce and promotes economic growth,” Ruane and Sandherr continued in the statement. “The construction industry continues to suffer from chronic unemployment and the continued delay in enacting a longer term bill prohibits them from expanding their workforces and investing in new equipment.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said at his weekly press conference on the day the extension was that the House was planning to take up the highway bill again when legislators returned to Washington, D.C., on April 16 after a spring recess.
The National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) says its message remains the same as it has been: “Congress must act now to pass a multi-year bill that maintains level funding at a minimum.” The association is urging its member to visit with their own members of Congress while they are in their districts to tell them, “America cannot wait any longer for a new highway bill.”
Following the decision by House Republicans to pass a 90-day stopgap extension of transportation programs, Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said she thinks “it will lead to thousands of job losses across the country.” Boxer called on the House to pass the bipartisan Senate transportation bill, which she says would create or save nearly 3 million jobs. “I will continue to push back to save jobs and stop the Highway Trust Fund from going bankrupt,” she said.
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Aggregates Manager at Rally for the Roads
More than 15 transportation construction industry associations came together in Washington, D.C., on March 20 on the National Mall for the second annual “Rally for the Roads,” a transportation funding advocacy rally, as the current transportation funding bill was less than two weeks away from expiring on March 31. However, a short-term extension passed just in the nick of time on March 29.
During the rally, Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) pointed out how other countries, including China and Great Britain, are investing. “The people on the other side of the aisle don’t get it,” DeFazio said, reports Aggregates Manager Editor-in-Chief Therese Dunphy, who attended the rally. “They want states to handle it,” he said. “It’s called devolution.”
Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said at the rally that “now is not the time for partisanship or experimentation. No great country can exist when our roads are falling down around us…”
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