Uncharted Road Ahead?
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A federal transportation bill in place will provide some stability, but spending levels and timing are critical.
Despite the Feb. 23 decision by House Republicans to abandon their proposed change to delink transit funding from highway user fees, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) publicly announced on March 8 that he plans to take up the Senate’s $109 bipartisan highway bill once it clears the upper chamber, according to a report in The Hill transportation blog (http://www.bit.ly/y8AB1b).
This decision came after his efforts to save a measure by his own party failed. “As I told the members [March 7], the current plan is to see what the Senate can produce and to bring their bill up,” Boehner said in a March 8 news conference.
The House had introduced H.R. 7 as a five-year bill, but it would be shortened since reclaiming highway user fees from mass transit was a major funding source for the bill.
The proposed funding source for mass transit, a change in the funding of federal pensions, was partially used to extend the payroll tax holiday leaving a gaping hole in the bill, according to the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA).
Boehner favors a $260 billion multiyear bill that would be funded by revenue from oil and gas drilling, but his fellow GOP members disapprove of the funding level and are concerned about an estimate from the Congressional Budget Office that drilling revenues will produce finances less than Boehner hopes, according to The Hill.
At Aggregates Manager press time, the new length of the House bill is still unclear. However, rank-and-file House Republicans weren’t keen on passing a long-term transportation bill, and they aren’t much more supportive of a shorter-term measure, an 18-month extension that party leaders had suggested instead. This opposition took Boehner back to square one.
Boehner had put off House debate on the surface-transportation bill in late February when some Republicans called it too expensive and others opposed the ending of guaranteed funding for mass transit.
Until a federal transportation bill is passed, the transportation construction industry will most likely remain on life support. Despite pockets of activity and a handful of states with growing transportation programs — New Jersey, Texas, and North Carolina — the industry will most likely remain status quo, the American Road and Transportation Builders Chief Economist Alison Premo Black told Aggregates Manager in a private economic briefing. Even the states that have seen modest growth will level off, Black says.
Having a federal bill in place will provide some stability — even at lower spending levels — but it probably won’t move the market forward very much, Black says. “As general construction recovers, it will help,” she says. “The passage of a federal bill will have a psychological effect on progress, but we won’t see a market boost until the second year [after it has been passed].”
According to an NSSGA report, Boehner said on March 1 that a five-year highway bill “is the right way to go,” noting, “We ought to do this the right way. We’ve had five-year, six-year reauthorizations of the highway bill. I think it’s important for the states and for those who want to invest in this arena to have a broad horizon so they know where they’re going. And a five-year bill’s the best way to get there.”
Making Transportation Job No. 1
The NSSGA says that ads will appear in Washington, D.C., key states, and districts around the country telling Congress to “Make Transportation Job #1” and pass a highway and transit bill now.
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