Sound Policy at $295 Billion

It’s baffling to us that the industry’s leading publication would tacitly endorse a $284-billion highway/transit reauthorization investment measure that could actually provide no growth for the federal transportation construction market over the next four years. ENR’s rhetorical references to a "charade" and the war in Iraq in your editorial, "Transportation Bill Warning Signs Should Be Heeded," are also out of bounds in the current debate. (ENR 5/9 p. 48). 

Since 2004, ENR has extensively covered the industry impacts of skyrocketing prices for steel and highway construction materials. If this trend continues for just one more year, a $284-billion TEA-21 reauthorization bill would lead to declines in purchasing power for all states, meaning the bill would not allow progress in alleviating congestion or addressing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

ENR’s charge that "self-interest" motivated the construction industry to support a "doomed" bipartisan House $375 billion highway/transit bill is nonsense. The proposal from Reps. Young (R-Alaska) and Oberstar (D-Minn.) was based directly on the Bush administration’s U.S. Dept. of Transportation report that said this was the investment level necessary to maintain and begin improving America’s transportation network. To us, linking transportation investment with the nation’s documented needs represents sound public policy.

The Senate on May 17, by an overwhelming 89-11 vote, successfully boosted the bill’s investment levels to $295 billion while remaining true to the user fee principle and without adding to the deficit. A final bill approved by Congress at this level, which will help address the nation’s growing transportation needs and grow the construction market, is something ENR should heartily endorse.

Toward the Inevitable

Let’s not blame "the industry" for the latest failure to convert to the metric system, as your recent editorial suggests (ENR 3/14 p. 56). There was a noble, yet feeble and isolated attempt made by the government and then its initiative was abruptly reversed.

From my experience, when the first sets of plans came out in metric units, there was no warning or explanation why we were being singled out as the guinea pigs. There were no other industries included, and certainly the traveling public was not made aware of efforts to replace miles per hour with kilometers per hour. There were definitely some ridiculous features in the program.

Being the world’s largest consumer obviously carries clout over our trading partners throughout the rest of the world. They seem content in supplying us with customized products made to our units. It must be costing us somehow for production in dual units. If and when another world economic leader reigns, such as the European Union or China, we may have no choice but to pay or play. But it is better to lead than follow. There must be a logical phased-in approach possible.

Despite a selfish reluctance to fully convert, postponing the inevitable is irresponsible. It may seem unrealistic to expect our legislators to take the lead and utilize our industry guidance to develop a unified and coherent plan. Because they have jurisdiction in setting standards for weights and measures, this is clearly an opportunity for a hero to emerge and leave a legacy for our children.