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Dont Wave the White Flag on Federal Transportation Funding

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Barely a month into the new year, several industry trade groups and no less than three widely read construction publications, including ENR, have sent up smoke signals that the battle over one of the most significant threats in decades facing the U.S. transportation design and construction market already is finished.

Even more alarming, the white flag is being waved before we have had a serious fight.

RUANE
I am referring, specifically, to the reauthorization of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and the crisis facing the federal Highway Trust Fund—the source, on average, of 52% of all state highway and bridge capital investments. Unless Congress and President Obama act by Oct. 1, the trust fund will not be able to support any new projects in fiscal year 2015. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx put it best on Jan. 15, when he said the trust fund "will start bouncing checks as soon as August."

That outcome could devastate the U.S. economy, jeopardize hundreds of thousands of jobs, and throttle market development and other business activities in construction. The uncertainty already is affecting state construction markets, and at least nine states are warning of adverse impacts on programs if the year drags on without a resolution to MAP-21.

Yet, in its "Our Construction Business Wish List for 2014" editorial (12/30 p. 88), ENR didn't mention MAP-21 or the Highway Trust Fund. It also called on Washington to "get out of the way of the economy" and for shifting the "focus from Washington, D.C., where the chance of consensus is low." I was flabbergasted.

It's easy to bemoan Washington political and policy gridlock and argue that nothing will get done, but it is the wrong message to be sending to transportation professionals whose livelihoods depend, in large part, on what happens on Capitol Hill. Federal highway and transit investment will be over $51 billion in fiscal year 2014. Does ENR really think the states or the private sector will replace this $51 billion in less than nine months?

The fact is, when it comes to infrastructure policy issues, there is common ground to be plowed. How quickly we have forgotten that MAP-21 passed the House 373-52 and the Senate 74-19—this is the same legislation many naysayers said would never get done. How many other bills garner such over- whelming support these days?

Misguided Call

ENR's call to shift the focus from Washington, D.C., is misguided for at least two other reasons.

First, from 2008-2013, state and local highway and bridge spending, cumulatively, dropped about $18 billion from pre-recession levels. By contrast, over the same period, federal investment, thanks in part to the 2009 stimulus law, increased by nearly $17 billion and helped keep the market afloat.

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