Last week Congress declared the gas tax increase dead with the support of U. S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. While the gas tax is far from perfect, its rejection is symbolic of Congress’ failure to adequately address the problem. Rejection of this tax at this time because we need to find a “better” solution only kicks the problem down the congested road and ignores the American Society of Civil Engineers' estimated five-year funding requirement of $960 billion for bridges and roads.
“Only a long-term transportation bill will truly spur employment in this country and in the construction industry, now facing an incredible 20.1% unemployment rate,” U.S. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said in a press statement recently. Mica's statement is certainly true, but Congress needs to do something now; not just talk about it.
No one wants to pay more taxes, but if we want our roads to work and be safe, then all stakeholders -- including all levels of government and users -- must make the necessary investment. I’m a fiscal conservative, and as such I’m in favor of less government spending, but investing in our infrastructure is an investment, not an expense. Avoiding necessary capital investments only increases expenditures later. The current spending level of $70.3 billion for highway capital improvements is well below the $186 billion a year that is needed.
The failure to fund our roads and bridges properly is costing every motorist $710 a year sitting in traffic and another $333 in repairs as a result of poor road conditions, according to information included on ASCE's website. Worse, it’s estimated that poor road conditions significantly impact one-third of traffic fatalities. To the families of those individuals, the cost of safe roads is priceless.
In short, our current road conditions are costing every motorist more than $1,000 a year, yet a 5-cent-per-gallon tax increase would cost most drivers less than $50 a year.
It’s time we stop admiring the problem while sitting in traffic and start fixing it!
The solution requires bold leadership at all levels. The leaders must create a vision and establish priorities. We can’t afford to waste money. The government continues to waste billions on low-priority projects that deliver little value to the overall community. High-priority projects would produce savings for all stakeholders, thus making it easier to fund future projects. However, when money is squandered, there are no benefits, except the short-term benefits to those actually building the road.
What the industry needs is a significant increase in the investment in our nation’s highway system. This will benefit the community by reducing delays and accidents, while at the same time stimulating the economy by creating jobs for the construction industry.
It’s time the construction industry takes action. It needs to take a greater leadership role in our infrastructure battle. It needs to turn lose its innovative capabilities to find better solutions; specifically lower-cost processes through the implementation of lean practices and more efficient designs and focus on total life-cycle costs. But it also must take a more active role in educating the public and government officials. We must hold our government leaders accountable for making sound capital investment decisions.
Do I think this approach will be easy? Do I think telling taxpayers they need to pay more for their roads will be popular? No, I don’t. However, sitting back and complaining about how bad things are doesn’t make sense, either. The construction industry has some very talented people; it’s time we push that talent totally outside its comfort zone to maximize the value the industry delivers. We must start thinking of ourselves as builders – not of buildings and roads, but of a nation!
Ted Garrison is a construction industry expert and civil engineer with more than 25 years of construction experience. During the last 12 years, he has authored Strategic Planning for Contractors and co-authored five other books on marketing, sales, customer service and leadership. Garrison also is the host of the Internet radio program, New Construction Strategies, www.NCS30.com, where he conducts weekly interviews of experts within the construction industry. He can be reached at email@example.com.