“Infrastructure Week” began with a burst of activity in Washington.
The morning of May 12, the start of the week, organized labor, construction and transportation officials announced a new push—including advertising and face-to-face Capitol Hill meetings—for a multi-year, strongly funded surface transportation bill.
Later that day, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx went before reporters at the daily White House press briefing to warn about the severe economic impact if revenue isn’t found to strengthen the weakening Highway Trust Fund.
That night, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee leaders unveiled their six-year highway bill, which has been in the works for weeks. The bill would hike the main road and bridge funding category by a modest 2% per year, to account for expected inflation.
Meantime, advocates of water infrastructure were awaiting more details about the House-Senate conference agreement announced late on May 8 on a new water-resources measure.
And that was only Monday of Infrastructure week. More meetings and conferences on public works were scheduled for days to come. The EPW committee was slated to vote on the highway bill on Thursday, May 15.
At a morning press conference, Terry O’Sullivan, Laborers’ International Union of North America general president, announced a new $1-million media campaign for a new transportation bill. The effort will include billboards, radio ads and other elements.
O’Sullivan declared that a multi-year bill is what’s needed. He said, “Another short-term patch, simply duct-taping the roads and bridges we all rely on, must be off the table.”
Pete Ruane, American Road & Transportation Builders Association president and CEO, said, “The Highway Trust Fund is suffering from whiplash because it has lurched from revenue crisis to revenue crisis, with four temporary funding patches over the last six years.”
He said ARTBA wants to turn up the heat on Congress, and tell lawmakers “Do your bloody job.”
Another part of the campaign will be visits to congressional offices during a “fly-in” of Transportation Construction Coalition members in June.
Sean O’Neill, Associated General Contractors of America’s director of congressional relations for infrastructure advancement, talked about AGC’s “Hardhats for Highways” program.
He said construction workers and contractors have sent about 5,600 letters to senators or House members urging action on finding revenue to support a “robust multi-year reauthorization of MAP-21.”
Also speaking were representatives of Marcia Hale, president of Building America’s Future and Jill Ingrassia, American Automobile Association managing director for government relations and traffic safety advocacy.
In the early afternoon, DOT’s Foxx told White House reporters that the U.S. transportation system is facing its most dire situation in decades. [Transcript]
He said if the trust fund isn’t fixed, as many as 700,000 construction and transportation workers could lose their jobs in the next year as states put highway projects on hold.
But Foxx took it a step further, saying just sustaining current funding levels isn’t enough. He talked up the Obama administration’s $302-billion four-year Grow America bill, sent to Congress on April 29, which would lift spending by about $90 billion over present totals.
Foxx noted that a recent road trip took him to 12 cities in eight states over about a week. He found that “all of these places…have long to-do lists” but lack the money to carry out the projects they want. “America is hungry and starving for major infrastructure investment,” Foxx said.
There has been some movement in Congress. Senate EPW Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), along with the committee’s top Republican, David Vitter (La.) and other leaders of the panel, issued a statement Monday night releasing the 150-page text of their new bill.
The measure should move quickly through the committee on Thursday.
The bill’s highway obligation ceiling would be set at $38.4 billion in fiscal 2015, and climb gradually to $42.6 billion in year six, fiscal 2020. That’s an 11% boost over six years or an average annual increase of about 2%.
But the trust fund won't be able to cover those sums fully. It will be up to the Senate Finance Committee to find additional revenue.
No bill has yet been introduced in the House. Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) recently said he has been talking with House GOP leaders and the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee about a short-term trust-fund remedy. Shuster's panel also is believed to be working on a longer-term measure.