Every other year, the state legislature grapples with ODOT’s two-year budget. From mid-February to late-March is budget time, so OCA closely watches and comments on issues that arise during this process. This year was no exception, as we took advantage of the comment opportunity, just as we do every budget cycle, to publically address those topics contained in the draft language that we agree or disagree with, or just want to express an opinion on. Following is the testimony that was presented to the House and Senate. While this does not address every matter contained in the bill – and we are not given time to touch on every topic – it does highlight several issues that OCA wished to emphasize.
The 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure is scheduled for release on March 19. Published every four years by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the Report Card grades the performance and condition of America’s transportation, water and environment, public facilities and energy. In the transportation category, the 2009 Report Card included detailed statistics concerning the deterioration of roads, bridges, and public transit at both national and state levels. Here are some highlights and “letter grades” from the 2009 study:
- “D-” One third of America’s roads are in poor or mediocre condition and 45% of major urban highways are congested. Current spending of $70.3 billion per year for highway capital improvements is well below the estimated $186 billion needed annually to substantially improve conditions.
- “C” More than 26% or one in four of the nation’s bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. A $17 billion annual investment is needed to substantially improve bridge conditions.
- “D” Nearly half of American households do not have access to bus or rail transit,and only 25% have what they consider to be a “good option”. The Federal Transit Administration estimates $15.8 billion is needed annually to maintain conditions and $21.6 billion is needed to improve to good conditions.
- “D” 25% of Ohio’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condtion. When all Ohio roads are considered, 43% are in critical, poor or fair condition.
- “B-” 27% of Ohio’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. It is estimated that it would cost $3.6 billion to replace all the structurally deficient bridges and two-thirds of the functionally obsolete bridges in Ohio.
The much anticipated 2013 Report Card will bring news of progress – or continuing deterioration. Either way, the new study will provide a strong benchmark as we plan, budget, build and maintain a transportation infrastructure that will serve America – and Ohio – for decades to come.
In the February issue of Transcript, the ODOT Newsletter, Pieter Wykoff addresses the art of compromise – how ODOT and the Ohio Contractors Association applied it to the long-standing issue of force account limits and how their efforts will benefit motorists throughout Ohio. Here is an excerpt of Mr. Wykoff’s article.
If you follow national politics at all, with all the talk of fiscal cliffs and debt limits, you might notice the absence of a certain idea from our political discussions: Compromise. One definition of the word is to make a deal between different parties, where each gives up a part of their demands for the good of all involved. Another definition of the concept is finding agreement in the course of an argument through communication — a mutual acceptance of terms often involving variations from an original goal or desire.
“We’ve been fighting with ODOT over force account limits for nearly a century,” says OCA President Chris Runyan. He’s not kidding. The proof is in a 1928 annual report published by the Ohio Department of Highways. It contains a debate on the use of day labor for projects versus contracting outside sources. The current law limits department personnel to bridge, culvert and traffic signal projects costing less than $50,000 and road repair projects costing less than $25,000.
“The current process is very subjective, depending on how you measure labor costs and the cost of equipment and materials,” Runyan said. “Every four years or so we have a very public battle in the Ohio Legislature with ODOT and other public entities about the force account limits and how they should be applied. Our members are tired of this fight.”
And so it was that Runyan decided to approach ODOT officials to see if both sides could negotiate a more objective process. He decided to propose a radical idea: a compromise. “We were looking for a different paradigm,” he said, “so that both our members and ODOT could say it will be a win-win situation for everybody.”
Runyan discovered that ODOT officials were willing to talk terms as well.
If it was a snake, it would have bitten us by now.
- A power outage at this year’s Super Bowl delays one of the world’s biggest sporting and most-viewed televised events
- U.S.ports are bypassed for Canada because the nation’s ports lack ability to handle “new breed mega ships”
- Mississippi River barge traffic is routinely halted by shallow water levels and lock/dam failures
- I-35 West Minneapolis bridge collapses
- One third of air travelers experience late arrivals/departures or diverted/canceled flights
U.S.infrastructure failures are occurring right under our nose, but for some reason leaders aren’t taking notice. The result is an economy more and more snake bitten. Two separate reports – one by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the other by Building America’s Future – released two days apart in January shed light on the dimming conditions.
Calling infrastructure the “lifeblood of our economy” and the “foundation for assuring a high quality of life for all Americans,” ASCE President Gregory E. DiLoreto’s group said if the U.S. increases its infrastructure spending by $1.25 trillion over the next eight years it would save $3.1 trillion in gross domestic product, $1.1 trillion in trade and 3.5 million jobs. The $157 billion more a year over the next eight years in infrastructure spending would be in addition to the $207 billion a year the nation is expected to pay for infrastructure through 2020.
According to the ASCE, current U.S. policies will under fund surface transportation, waterways, the electrical grid and sewers by about $1.1 trillion over the next eight years. By not increasing infrastructure spending, American households and businesses will suffer $611 billion and $1.2 trillion in costs, respectively.
This continued neglect of the nation’s infrastructure has already cost the U.S.on the world level. A bipartisan report by Building America’s Future states: “Our competitors tore a page out of America’s success story, applied the lessons to their own systems and challenges, and now they’re sprinting ahead of us.”
Once heralded for its world-class infrastructure, the U.S.’s current “striking lack of vision,” according to the Building America’s Future report, has it falling in the global ranks:
- U.S. rail infrastructure ranks 18th by the Economic Forum
- U.S. air transportation is 30th behind Malaysia and Panama
- The eight largest U.S.ports, combined, handle less cargo containers a year than the Port of Shanghai
- With only two East Coast ports able to serve the modern-day larger ships, cargo from China heads to Canada instead
What makes the nation’s worsening infrastructure even more incredulous is that as much as 60 percent of U.S.-made products are exported. The U.S.economy is based on exporting products and it can’t do it.
“Other countries are building their ports and modernizing their ports, and making it so that once you get (goods) into port you’re able to move things around the country,” said Building America’s Future President Marcia L. Hale. “We can’t export unless we find a way to move these goods that are made in the United States to our trading partners.”
While countries are investing in infrastructure even in hard economic times – because they’re looking at the long-term benefits – the U.S. is spending about what it did on infrastructure in 1968 when adjusted for inflation.
Building America’s Future recommends greater infrastructure investment, utilizing federal funds on projects designed to ease bottlenecks and expand capacity at ports and key junctures, forming an infrastructure bank and encouraging innovative approaches that will bring more private financing to public works projects.
Two reports released in the same week in January pointed out the nation’s infrastructure failings at the domestic and global levels, a third report released in February, two days after a championship game power outage, shows each American driver losing $818 annually due to wasted time and fuel sitting in congested traffic. Things are occurring right under our noses when it comes to the nation’s infrastructure – and economically it has already bitten us.
COLUMBUS, Ohio – The proposal by Gov. Kasich’s Administration to keep the Ohio Turnpike in state control while issuing bonds to raise $1.5 billion to fund critical new construction is the kind of innovative thinking that will continue moving Ohio forward, said Chris Runyan, president of the Ohio Contractors Association.
“The governor listened to the people of Ohio,” Runyan said. “He did what he said he would do at the beginning of this process – gather as much data as possible, study it carefully, and reach decisions that are best for all Ohioans.”
Runyan said his membership, which includes contractors in all regions of the state, is excited about the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Ohio Turnpike Commission (OTC) working cooperatively together to address the state’s infrastructure problems.
“Being able to have these two agencies work collectively to address transportation issues is a huge step forward for the state,” Runyan said. Under the governor’s plan, the OTC will remain an independent agency, but the two agencies have pledged to work collaboratively on projects outside the OTC’s traditional role.
“The state faces a $1.6 billion deficit when it comes to highway projects,” Runyan said. “This program is an extremely important step toward addressing that.Ohiois a national logistics leader and it can’t be stressed enough that we need to keep that position.
“It’s exciting for the construction community as well. It provides job opportunities that the industry creates and it also improves the transportation infrastructure because of this additional funding,” Runyan added.
OCA, based in Columbus, is a statewide association of more than 450 member companies representing Ohio’s heavy-highway and utility industries.
There is great news today for Ohio residents as well as the many contractors that keep our roadways in shape! The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that Commercial Activity Tax revenue derived from motor fuel sales must be used for the construction and maintenance of highways and bridges. In a lawsuit heard by the Court last July, a group of businesses contended that Ohio was violating the state constitution by directing approximately $140 million collected via the CAT on motor fuel sales to non-highway purposes including local governments and schools. Here is an excerpt from today’s news release:
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Saying it validates both the Ohio Constitution and the will of Ohioans, members of the state’s heavy-construction industry strongly support today’s Ohio Supreme Court decision that the Commercial Activity Tax (CAT) revenue derived from motor-fuel sale receipts must be spent in furtherance of highway purposes such as bridge maintenance and construction.
“We are pleased that the Supreme Court of Ohio affirmed the will of Ohio’s citizens when they voted in 1947 to restrict the use of revenue from any excise tax related to motor fuel to only the purposes of maintenance and construction of highways and bridges,” said Ohio Contractors Association President Chris Runyan. “Excise taxes like the commercial activity tax, which directly burdens the price of motor fuel, rightly should be a source of funding for this part of our society’s infrastructure that drives economic prosperity and quality of life. The Court’s decision confirms that right and memorializes it as a constitutional mandate. We are pleased the Supreme Court affirmed this right in today’s ruling. It is a victory for Ohio citizens and the rule of law.”
The new federal transportation law accomplishes many positive things. Besides just keeping the money flowing for two more years, it will do much to streamline the administrative and environment pieces of program and project delivery. There have already been many articles written that present the details. I’ll refrain from once again listing the highlights.
What is clear and is worth repeating is that there was much give-and-take that had to occur within the halls of Congress to bring this legislation to fruition. Given all the items that were not in the final version of the bill that the Senate had originally included, the Senate and its leadership, in the last days of the debate, moved a long way in their respective positions in achieving a bicameral agreement. Likewise, the House stepped back on a number of issues, some related to transportation, other matters that merely muddied the waters, in its efforts to ink an acceptable bill.
It is clear that this is “Step 1,” as ARTBA’s President & CEO Pete Ruane described it. The long-term funding security that we all identify as the Holy Grail remains out of reach. In fact, The Wall Street Journal, in describing the funding sources used to deliver this two-year bill, wrote, “The bill has one other notable achievement: It’s crammed with a remarkable array of budget gimmicks voters aren’t supposed to notice.” Securing a longterm replacement or supplement for the motor fuel users’ fee must dominate the debate leading to the next bill due two years from now.
With the passage of a federal bill that keeps us in a steady state for federal funding, and minimally declining revenue coming in from the state motor fuel users’ fee, augmented by ODOT’s internal efforts toward operational efficiencies and new, innovative revenue sources, it is reasonable to envision transportation construction activity in Ohio to remain at current, if not slightly improving levels, over the next two years.
Finally, there is a House transportation bill and a Senate transportation bill being taken up by a conference committee in our nation’s capital. A conference committee, made up of selected members of the House and Senate, has the job of creating a jointly acceptable single bill out of two different versions passed, theoretically, on the same subject. Given the challenges in getting a bill out of both the House and Senate, I can see why many seasoned Washington, D.C. pundits hail this as a monumental step.
To me, it still feels like a baby step. Here’s why. The Senate version of the bill has a lot of meaty stuff in it. It contains some good policy and some really bad policy stuff. It does contain funding at an adequate level (for the sake of argument). However, if passed today, the bill covers the country’s transportation investment for 16 months. With a timeframe like that, the debate can never abate. The argument over the next reauthorization bill will not be settled. It can’t even quiet down. Sixteen months will flash by in the blink of an eye and in that timeframe, the Highway Trust Fund will be broke. There will be no cushion remaining. Left with the current revenue sources, namely the federal highway user fee – which hasn’t been increased since 1993 – we will have a 35 percent reduction in the amount of federal funds being issued back to the states. This doesn’t feel like a big step to me.
And now the version of the House bill: this kicks the can for making a decision on a bill that actually addresses transportation three more months down the road and gets the Keystone XL pipeline approved. Again, that doesn’t feel like a big step in the right direction either. That sounds like another political fight to me.
But can we just give up on the process and, ultimately, the goal? Absolutely not! When you realize that two-thirds of ODOT’s construction budget, amounting to nearly $1 billion each year, comes from the federal government, we cannot give up on this effort for the sake of our industry or the people who benefit from the services we provide.
We are fortunate that our sole Ohio representative on the conference committee is Representative Patrick Tiberi. Rep. Tiberi has been a strong supporter of transportation issues, the heavy/highway industry in Ohio, and this association for as long as he has been in public office. He, like most, will struggle with the concept of increasing
the federal highway user fee, but he does get the big picture of the importance of an
efficient, well-maintained transportation infrastructure and the need to get to a place where it is being legitimately paid for. He knows the issues and his will be a positive voice for what we stand for.
Read the full text of Mr. Runyan’s article here.
Displaying a message board and safety barrels in front of its facilities, OCA is bringing attention to the importance of staying alert in and around construction work zones. Each year, more than 500 people die nationally as a result of accidents occurring in work zones. In 2011, 17 deaths occurred in Ohio road construction work zones.
OCA is a statewide business and trade association of 460 members involved in the heavy highway and utility industry.
Despite signs, message boards, flashing lights, flagmen, safety barrels and barriers and other safety measures alerting motorists of a change in normal driving patterns, there were more than 87,000 crashes in work zones in 2010, the latest figures provided by the Federal Highway Administration.
To make motorists more aware of the dangers of being un-attentive – especially in these set aside safe zones – the 2012 National Work Zone Awareness Week will be observed April 23-27.
This annual awareness program is working, as evidenced by statistics compiled by The National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse (www.workzonesafety.org). While there have been more than 230 fatalities occurring in Ohio work zones since 2000, the annual work zone fatality rate of 19.3 has decreased 32 percent, to 13.2, in the past five years. There were 17 work zone fatalities inOhio in 2011.
The Ohio Construction Information Association urges motorists to follow these 10 work zone safety tips:
- Stay alert. Give your attention to the road.
- Pay close attention. Signs and work zone flaggers save lives.
- Turn on your headlights. Workers and other motorists must see you.
- Don’t tailgate.
- Don’t speed. Note the posted speed limits in and around the work zone.
- Keep up with the traffic flow.
- Don’t change lanes.
- Minimize distractions. Avoid changing radio stations and using a mobile phone while driving in the work zone.
- Expect the unexpected. Keep an eye out for workers and their equipment.
- Be patient. Work zone crews are working to improve your future ride.