Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and 11 of his predecessors sent an important message to Congress this week. In an Open Letter, they acknowledge that Congress will likely act to avoid insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund. And that the current bill – passed last week in the House and now pending in the Senate – should extend surface transportation funding until May 2015. But the heart of their message is much stronger.
The Transportation Secretaries point out that Congress’s work does not end with the bill currently under consideration. They emphasize that, “This bill will not ‘fix’ America’s transportation system. For that, we need a much larger and longer-term investment.” These folks should know. Taken together, they have served seven presidents and led the U.S. Department of Transportation for over 35 years. Based on that long history and substantial experience, their letter declares that, “Never in our nation’s history has America’s transportation system been on a more unsustainable course.” Members of Congress and every American citizen should take heed.
You can read the full text of the DOT Secretaries’ letter at http://www.dot.gov/briefing-room/open-letter-secretary-foxx-and-11-former-dot-secretaries-urging-congress-address-long
The ARTBA “Transportation Makes America Work!” program (TMAW) recently launched a fact-filled information campaign that shines a bright spotlight on America’s highway and transit investment needs. Under the headline “The Shocking Truth”, the new campaign highlights the impact that transportation investment – or the lack of it – has on American families and businesses.
The information-rich campaign tells the transportation story from eight different perspectives: Health & Safety, Emergency Response, The Economy, Commerce, What We Pay, and What’s Happening to Our Roads & Bridges, How Much Improvements Cost, and the Cost of Inaction. Plenty of details and helpful graphics clearly illustrate that our economy, quality of life and security truly depend on the strength of our transportation infrastructure.
Take a few minutes and check out the “The Shocking Truth” campaign today. It is definitely time well spent.
In front of a backdrop with traffic-halting shock, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and other transportation leaders from Ohio informed media on June 30 that heavy-highway planning on the state’s future transportation projects could be stopped within weeks.
In an awareness effort held at the Ohio Contractors Association’s (OCA) headquarters in Columbus, the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) supplied a heart-stopping image of a school bus dead in its tracks after being hit by a piece of a failed bridge.
As part of LiUNA’s “Getting Schooled in Infrastructure” tour, local media and the public learned how the nation’s dwindling federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which provides state departments of transportation nearly half of their funding for transportation project improvements, will be all but bankrupt by September 30th. The end of September also coincides with the expiration of the current federal transportation funding bill, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21).
Brown, a two-term U.S. Senator talked about the importance of investing in infrastructure. According to the senator, leading up to the 1980s the United States invested in its infrastructure. “… Which was the right thing to do for safety reasons; it was the right thing for economic development; it was the right thing to do for wages; it was the right thing to do for planning infrastructure and making sure we had a prosperous country,” Sen. Brown said. “You don’t have prosperity unless you build good infrastructure.”
Sen. Brown’s appearance brought attention to dwindling HTF funds, which will slow planning and development for future projects like the Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati, a local interchange in nearby Dublin and others throughout Ohio. Joining the senator were OCA President Chris Runyan, Ohio Laborers’ Employees Cooperation and Education Trust Executive Director John C. Hughes Jr., Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission Executive Director William Murdock; and Kokosing Construction Co. Inc. laborer Anna Wiley.
Regarding the need for a long-term federal transportation funding bill, Sen. Brown said the country doesn’t want or need a six-month or two-year bill “so central Ohio can’t plan, so DOT can’t plan, so communities and workers can’t plan. We want a six-year plan and we want it to be bi-partisan the way it used to be.”
Speakers stood before a crushed school bus that features a prop resembling a large piece of fallen bridge to symbolize the falling condition of the nation’s transportation infrastructure system. LiUNA, which has more than a half-million members, began its “Getting Schooled in Infrastructure” Tour in mid-June. Ohio was among the states in the six-week tour of the nation’s heartland before it concludes in Washington, D.C. The 22-city tour is in an effort to press Congress to pass a long-term, full-investment highway bill this year. “It’s time to stop sugar-coating this issue,” said LiUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan when the “bus” tour began in Delaware. “We are not trying to scare people, but we are trying to wake people and Congress up.”
“The visual that is provided demonstrates that this is more than a job issue,” said OCA’s Runyan, as he glanced at the yellow school bus behind him. “It is a safety issue. It is a business issue. It is a personal issue for every person that drives a car, rides a bus, pedals a bicycle or walks a path or sidewalk.”
There’s been plenty of news about the federal Highway Trust Fund heading for the fiscal cliff in late August. That’s barely two months away! The reality is that, without some fast Congressional action, the Highway Trust Fund balance will indeed reach zero. As the HTF cash flow gets tighter, reimbursements to state transportation departments for existing highway projects will slow down very quickly. And if the revenue issue remains unresolved this fall, there will be no federal funding for any new transportation projects in 2015. Here in Ohio, approximately half of ODOT’s construction programs will come to a halt. State DOT projects throughout the country will experience a similar downturn. That’s unhealthy for our roads, bridges and transit systems, and potentially devastating to contractors who rely on highway construction for their livelihood.
Trade and professional associations have been working hard to keep the Highway Trust Fund crisis in the public eye. Earlier this month the American Society of Civil Engineers launched a new campaign urging definitive Congressional action to fund America’s transportation infrastructure for the long term. The campaign website at www.fixthetrustfund.org and Twitter page at #FixTheTrustFund make it easy for businesses and consumers to join together and tell Congress to find a long term sustainable revenue solution right now. The campaign provides lots of good information about the basic problem, the overall economic impact and the personal impact on American families and businesses. Check it out at www.fixthetrustfund.org to learn more. Better yet, use the tools at the website to Take Action yourself!
The Columbus Dispatch reports that a bi-partisan plan to raise the federal gas tax has surfaced in the U.S. Senate. With all the recent news coverage about the Highway Trust Fund running out of cash in late August, the timing is certainly right. Here are the key points of the plan proposed by Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn.:
The proposed increases are substantial and definitely should be. The federal gas tax and diesel taxes were last increased in 1993 and, as fixed-rate assessments, had no provision for inflation. As a result, each revenue dollar generates far less funding for highway building and repair today than 10 or 20 years ago. Inadequate funding coupled with an aging transportation infrastructure has created a transportation crisis in the United States. And without a Highway Trust Fund that is solvent for the long term, the condition of our roads and bridges will only get worse. This bi-partisan plan is an important step in the right direction.
You can read the full article here. Columbus Dispatch_12-cent hike in fuel taxes proposed in Senate_061914
A recent Op-Ed article in the Cincinnati Enquirer presents a strong argument against Cincinnati’s “responsible bidder” ordinance which requires contractors to participate in government-prescribed training methods for construction workers. Co-authored by the Ohio Contractors Association, Allied Construction Industries and Ohio Valley Associated Builders and Contractors, the article explains that contractors already invest heavily in construction skills training and have done so for years. The trade associations contend that government-mandated training ordinances are unnecessary and, in fact, hurt contractors both large and small.
While the article clearly focuses on Cincinnati’s “responsible bidder” law, the associations’ point about construction training resonates statewide. The fact is that jobs in the construction industry today demand highly skilled tradesmen and women. Contractors – both union and non-union – have answered that call. To make sure that construction workers acquire and maintain the necessary expertise, contractors spend millions of dollars every year on employee training.
Much is written – and rightly so – about highway funding, the conditions of roads and bridges throughout the U.S. and the economic necessity of building a strong infrastructure. Far less is written about the highly skilled construction professionals who actually do the work. This joint effort by the trade associations reminds us that it takes construction experts to build a road, bridge, or water treatment facility from a blueprint. And contractors throughout Ohio have proactively trained their employees to build with excellence.
Slated for the May 6th primary ballot, State Issue 1 has received plenty of news coverage throughout Ohio in recent weeks and rightly so. Issue 1 asks Ohio voters to renew a state bond issuance that will fund the State Capital Improvements Program (SCIP). The program helps finance the repair and replacement of roads, bridges, water plants and sewer systems in communities throughout the state. And it’s been doing so for nearly 30 years. Ohio voters previously approved the bond issue for SCIP in 1987, 1995 and 2005. Suffice to say, it merits our support once again. A few highlights before we head for the polls tomorrow:
The State Capital Improvements Program is a winner for Ohioans. Tomorrow, May 6th, is the day. Don’t forget to vote! And be sure to vote “Yes” for State Issue1!
In a public opinion survey released last week, Ohio voters sent a clear message about transportation funding. They want federal investment in roads, bridges and public transportation to continue in Ohio. And they warn of political consequences for members of Congress who don’t take action to ensure that federal transportation funding remains available.
The survey of 500 registered Ohio voters was commissioned by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association and the American Public Transportation Association. Here are the top line findings:
When it comes to transportation funding, Ohioans get it. They understand that the federal Highway Trust Fund provides 58% of the money for Ohio’s road, bridge and public transit improvements each year. They know that the Highway Trust Fund is nearly insolvent and that the Federal Gas Tax, which has stood at $0.184 per gallon since 1993, cannot meet funding needs. And they realize that, if Congress does not act this year, Ohio and every state in the country could lose funding for transportation infrastructure improvements in 2015.
With fiscal year 2015 beginning October 1 of this year, now is a really good time for Congressional action on the Highway Trust Fund. Everyone who relies on Ohio’s roads, bridges and public transit for daily travel will certainly appreciate the effort.
Like many Ohioans looking beyond January’s polar vortex, the state’s local infrastructure officials are also awaiting the month of May –Tuesday, May 6 to be exact.
Quick work by the Ohio Legislature – 34 days, including the Christmas break, to be exact – has placed State Joint Resolution (SJR) 6 on the May ballot, which will ask Ohio voters to renew the State Capital Improvement Program (SCIP). Created in 1987, SCIP utilizes Ohio’s General Revenue Fund as debt support to provide general obligation bonds for the state’s counties, cities, villages, townships and water and sanitary districts to make improvements to their infrastructure systems.
The money is issued through the Ohio Public Works Commission (OPWC).
In describing SCIP, Shelby County Engineer Robert Geuy, P.E., P.S., said, “It has helped many local governments in the repair and upkeep of their infrastructure that otherwise could not and would not have been accomplished.” In the 27 years that the program has been around, SCIP has awarded $4.2 billion for improvements to roads, bridges, culverts, water supply systems, wastewater systems, storm water collection systems and solid waste disposal facilities – more than 11,500 projects, to be exact.
This is the fourth time Ohio voters are being asked to approve SCIP funding. It was previously approved in 1987, 1995 and 2005 by an average consensus of 62.3 percent of the vote. This year’s third renewal of the infrastructure improvement program is asking for an increase in the bonding levels from the current $150 million a year to $175 million annually for the first five years (state fiscal years 2016-2020) and $200 million annually for the remaining five years (SFY 2020-2025).
The ballot’s 10-year, nearly $1.9 billion in SCIP funding is much needed by local officials, as Geuy said that Ohio’s counties, townships and municipalities maintain nearly 85 percent of all centerline road miles in the state. The 2014 president of the County Engineer’s Association of Ohio Inc. added that 60 percent of Ohio’s nearly 45,000 public bridges are also maintained at the local level. “It has helped many local governments in the repair and upkeep of their infrastructure that otherwise could not and would not have been accomplished.”
As with any program that awards infrastructure funding at the local level, to be rewarded SCIP grant money is competitive, as more than 2,400 eligible applicants across the state can apply and use the program. SCIP applicants submit projects, which are scored and selected by 19 district integrating committees.
According to senators Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville) and Kevin Bacon (R-Minerva Park), who sponsored SJR 6 in the Ohio Senate, this legislation and ballot measure is exactly what is needed.
Sen. Bacon believes the infrastructure dollars directly benefit local governments and communities, as he points to SCIP’s track record of improving quality of life, ensuring public health, safety and job creation.
“This money is one of the most important investments we can make in our local communities,” Sen. Manning said. “These public works dollars are funneled straight to our local governments to fund the continued upkeep of our bridges, tunnels, roadways and other vital projects that ensure the safety and convenience of every Ohioan.
“The voters have always shown support for the public works program,” Sen. Manning added, “because they see its benefit every day as they travel to work and school.”
There were quite a few news stories in 2013 suggesting that Americans are driving less these days. Some statistical interpretations support that conclusion. However, a historical review of overall Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) in the United States over the last 25 years provides a bigger picture – and tells a different story. While automobile travel in the United States certainly declined from 2008-2011 because of the recession, annual VMT had increased steadily for the previous 20 years. And since 2011, the miles have been trending upward once again. Americans are still spending lots of time on the road.
Take a look at the Traffic Volume Trends published monthly by the Federal Highway Administration. The following observations are drawn from the November 2013 issue which tracks annual (year-to-date) Vehicle Miles Traveled since 1988.
Americans do indeed spend a lot of time behind the wheel. We are a highly mobile population, whether traveling for work, school and vacation or moving freight from one city to another. That has been our history and it appears the trend will continue.