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.
There has been a fair amount of media coverage recently concerning a new proposal to raise the Federal Motor Fuel Tax. On December 3, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) proposed new legislation that would increase the federal tax on gas to 33.4 cents per gallon. To put that in perspective, the federal gas tax has stood at 18.4 cents since 1993 so the new proposal calls for a 15 cent boost. There will be plenty of debate about this in the coming months, but for the moment, let’s consider one reason why raising the federal gas tax is a good idea.
Quite simply, driving in the United States has always been cheap. From a gas tax or “user fee” standpoint, drivers in America pay far less per gallon than many of our global neighbors. The Federal Highway Administration provided the following comparison from the July 2013 reporting period.
Even an increase significantly larger than the proposed legislation would keep the motor fuel tax rate in the United States far below other countries, which brings us to the nub of the matter. Bolstered by plenty of credible research, just about everyone understands – and agrees – that the U.S. transportation infrastructure needs help. Like any infrastructure system, highways and bridges require maintenance, repair and eventual replacement. The big question is how to pay for it. A modest gas tax increase that will generate lots of revenue with very little pain at the pump makes good sense indeed.
By the way, Rep. Blumenhauer’s proposal has been endorsed by many groups including United Parcel Service (UPS), the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National AFL-CIO and the AAA.
Commenting on the proposal, Kathleen Bower, vice president of public affairs for AAA, may have said it best. “Though it would be easier to simply kick the can down the road, today’s proposed legislation takes a necessary step forward in fostering debate on an important issue that many policy makers have been reluctant to address,” Bower noted. “The country desperately needs additional funding for infrastructure and, for the moment, there is no better means than the fuel tax. The proposed increase is well overdue and in line with what most experts suggest would be appropriate.”
That is a very clear assessment worthy of serious thought by all.
Ohio Contractors Association President Chris Runyan comments on the Federal Motor Fuel Tax. Is it broken – or mismanaged?
One good thing about an editorial is that not only can I editorialize, I can vent – within reason. An article I recently read has prompted me to want to vent a little bit. In it, a U.S. House of Representatives member (not from Ohio), commenting on the United States’ need to borrow to maintain its spending levels and attempting to tie that fact into the sufficiency of the federal motor fuel tax, made this statement: “There is pressure when you’re borrowing 43 cents on every dollar you are spending. Long term, we’re going to have to do something since the gas tax is broken.”
That level of spending and the level of borrowing to spend to the extent our nation is spending, is definitely not a good thing. And, I imagine, all that borrowing to achieve all that spending no doubt has an impact on how legislators view each expenditure and every bill that entails expenditures coming across their desk. But those last five words, “the gas tax is broken” always seems to grate at my conscience whenever I hear those words being spoken. In my view, the gas tax is not broken – it has been MISMANAGED.
The federal motor fuel tax was created to construct and maintain the federal highway system. It was, and remains, a great funding mechanism. Not only does it generate a large amount of funds, it does so in a manner that reflects use (or at least it largely does). Payment based on usage is about as close to fairness as one can get with any type of money-generating concept. If a person does not use the system (i.e. they don’t drive) they don’t pay. The user who drives 1,000 miles pays more than a person who drives 500 miles. That is why the motor fuel tax is most properly viewed to be a user fee in lieu of a tax irrespective of the words that are used (tax vs. fee). An individual pays only when they use it.
But at some point, many points actually, things started to go awry. Right in front of our eyes, funds that are collected to build highways and bridges of federal interest were building, and continue to build, a whole lot more.
The Ohio Department of Transportation has launched a new partnership with cities and counties that will fully fund the repair or replacement of locally owned bridges. Aptly named Ohio’s Bridge Partnership, the first-of-its-kind initiative will invest $120 million in local bridges over the next three years. More than 200 county and city bridges are expected to be repaired or replaced with work beginning on 40 of them as early as spring 2014. This is really a big deal. The initiative is important for several reasons. Let’s take a look.
First, many local bridges throughout Ohio are in poor condition and need costly repairs sooner rather than later. While most reports on bridge conditions rank Ohio bridges better than national averages overall, statistics focused on county and city bridges present a more worrisome situation.
These deteriorating conditions result in extended travel times, impede economic growth and present safety concerns for Ohio citizens who rely on our local bridges every day. The new program will bring welcome relief.
Second, the influx of $120 million for repair and replacement of local bridges will make a huge improvement in bridge conditions and public safety. State highway funding traditionally supports ODOT’s maintenance of bridges on interstates, U.S. routes and state routes. However, the counties and municipalities responsible for local bridges typically face an uphill battle to obtain adequate funding. Ohio’s Bridge Partnership will make a real difference. It is truly a first-of-its-kind program made possible by careful financial management at ODOT and Governor Kasich’s innovative program for leveraging the Ohio turnpike.
Finally, the economic impact of Ohio’s Bridge Partnership will reverberate throughout the state. The program will create opportunities for local contractors, many of whom specialize in bridge rehabilitation and replacement. In addition to generating more construction jobs, the program will also support key industries like tourism, retail, agriculture and manufacturing all of which depend on Ohio’s transportation infrastructure for success.
Ohio’s Bridge Partnership is a win for everyone. The investment helps restore a critical element of Ohio’s infrastructure, improves public safety, creates jobs and supports our economy. We extend a big “thank you” to ODOT and the Kasich administration for making the program a reality.
Most of us think about traffic congestion in terms of the aggravation – the endless minutes of beep and creep, being late for work or missing our kid’s ball game. We usually don’t think of it in terms of dollars and cents or how the hours add up in the course of a year. But he numbers are staggering. Traffic congestion in Ohio takes a huge block of time and a big chunk of change from all of us who battle the rush hour every day.
The 2012 Urban Mobility Report tells the congestion story with solid statistics. Published annually by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, the report compiles the extra travel time, increased fuel consumption and the cost to commuters that result from daily travel on congested highways. Take a look at the statistics for several large Ohio cities as well as comparably sized cities in adjacent states.
The numbers sure provide a dose of reality, a real sense of what traffic congestion means to each of us. Over the course of a year, the extra travel time adds up to a full work week. The excess fuel burned is enough to fill the average automobile tank and then some. And as far as our wallets are concerned, eight hundred bucks buys a lot of groceries!
We hear a lot about transportation funding, critical highway projects and the need for bridge restoration or replacement. We recognize that all are important initiatives that benefit our state’s economy and each of us as individual drivers. But considering Ohio’s infrastructure in terms of traffic congestion has a much more visceral effect. It hits us where we feel the pain.
The Ohio Construction Information Association is pleased to announce the launch of its new website. We take pride in being a source of timely information about Ohio road construction, infrastructure and the major transportation issues that affect each of us. And we believe the new website does that job better than ever!
You will find pages dedicated to the current condition of Ohio’s roads and bridges, the gas tax, and relevant news summaries from around the state. We’ve tried to make the new site information-rich with plenty of links to studies from research organizations such as the Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA), the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and TRIP, a national transportation research group.
Whether you are a legislator, a journalist or an Ohio resident concerned about our state’s infrastructure, we hope that you find the new site useful and worthy of your time. We invite you to pay us a visit, click around a bit and let us know what you think. Enjoy!
Interesting fact – Ohio is home to the nation’s longest recycled plastic bridge on a public roadway. Located on County Road 174 in Logan County, the Onion Ditch Bridge spans 24 1/2 feet and is constructed of 100-percent recycled thermoplastic. For those who like all the details, the bridge consists of 80-percent post-consumer detergent and shampoo bottles, milk jugs and high density polyethylene and 20-percent car bumpers and dashboards. The total weight exceeds 100,000 pounds.
Despite its short span, the bridge draws attention to some huge subjects – the nation’s bridge inventory, local infrastructure funding, innovative construction techniques, and materials technology. For example, a recent report by Transportation for America stated that one in nine bridges in the United States have been “marked as unsafe.” And right here at home, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reported in 2011 that nearly 5,700 of Ohio’s 27,403 bridges were either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
Despite passage of a 2-year state transportation budget in early 2013, the funding for local highways and bridges is insufficient. It simply cannot cover all the repair, restoration and replacement of that our roads and bridges require. Finding the dollars to maintain Ohio’s infrastructure for the long term will remain an ongoing challenge.
But fiscal challenges often lead to innovation, and the Onion Ditch Bridge gives a prime example. Funding was made possible through the FHWA’s Innovative Bridge Research and Deployment Program. The recycled plastic technology provides a construction material that is strong and durable as well as environmentally friendly. And with fabrication completed off-site, actual bridge construction took days rather than weeks or months. All in all the Onion Ditch Bridge is a demonstrated success, a showcase of creative thinking and innovative technologies. While the bridge span is just over 24 feet, the idea stretches far into the future!
Budgeting for Road Upkeep, Improvements is Cheap Compared to other Household Expenditures
July 1st marks the start of many fiscal years, so there has been a lot of talk recently about budgets.
Keeping within a budget is an essential part of financial freedom. While the U.S. government might not be a good example of staying within one itself, MoneyWatch reports it as good news that the nation’s government would have a deficit of only $642 billion in FY13 (albeit that is a $200 billion improvement over FY12).
… Wait, you’re looking a little sheepish; you don’t have a personal budget do you? It’s OK, (and I’m whispering here) you and I are like the six out of 10 Americans that don’t have a budget. You and I know, though, how important it is to make a budget and – unlike the federal government – stick to it.
There are a bunch of websites and information to show how to create a budget. Heck, even the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) released results of a survey that make you take notice.
ARTBA’s survey of more than 1,000 American adults centered on the motor-fuel tax (I didn’t even think about budgeting for taxes). Compared to other household expenditures, the combined total of the state and federal motor-fuel tax is pennies compared to television and internet, electricity and gas and phone service.
The federal motor-fuel tax of 18.4 cents per gallon and the state motor-fuel tax – which in Ohio is 28 cents/gallon – are what provide funding for the construction and maintenance of our roads and bridges. Many Americans believe that when gas prices increase at the pump so does motor-fuel tax revenue – they’re wrong; but that’s another story. Anyway, most multi-car households spend a little more than $46 a month in motor-fuel tax (that’s the federal and state per-gallon tax combined) – a far cry from other household expenditures. Take a look:
Though it doesn’t hit us in the pocketbook or wallet as much as other items to pay for, the cost of good roads is a high priority for Americans. The ARTBA survey found that eight in 10 of us say driving a motor vehicle is “very” or “extremely” important to our ability to conduct our daily lives. And nine in 10 Americans say our transportation infrastructure is important for a strong U.S. economy.
$46.33 – the amount that I pay each month to improve the roads I rely on for work, food, clothing, almost everything – is about what I spend monthly for coffee and sweet tea. Wait, I better budget for my caffeine fix.
Ohio Contractors Association President Chris Runyan comments on the permissible uses of federal funds, general revenue fund taxes vs. user fees and the gas tax.
Since being motivated by a recent trip to Washington, D.C. to discuss federal transportation funding with our state’s congressional delegation and hearing all kinds of tantalizing factoids, let’s turn this column into a brief civics quiz.
Question #1 – In our nation’s Constitution, what are the few activities for which federal funds are expressly named as permissible expenditures?
I’ll bet most of you named defense right away. Establishing post offices is another. Anticipating my bias, you could guess the third – the construction of roads. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 7 states that taxes collected can be used for the construction of what were then known as “post roads.” These were intended to connect post offices for the purposes of communication.
Many would like to see the federal government out of the road building business and devolve that function to the state level of government and below. Our founding fathers saw the need for a federal role in roads and I would argue that need remains.
I will quickly acquiesce to the viewpoint that the role of the federal government has expanded way beyond what may be defined as a functional or efficient role. There are a number of reasons why the federal Highway Trust Fund is going broke. Chief among those reasons is that it is paying for more things than its creators ever envisioned it would pay for. One could legitimately ask oneself if a bridge on a two-lane country road is a federal transportation priority. Is a bicycle path across town a federal transportation priority? Is a transit bus or a local transit system a federal transportation priority? Don’t get me wrong – each of these is a localized transportation priority; but, are they federal transportation priorities? What I’m suggesting is that if our nation’s leaders want to fund all of these things beyond what the original intention of the Highway Trust Fund was established for, then maybe they had better be willing to authorize the amount of funds necessary to do the job instead of taking no action to increase the revenue stream for the past 20 years. Instead of taking care of all of it well, we’re not able to take care of any of it well.