Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Add This to the Federal Highway Funding Mix

(from the April/May Editor's Note of AsphaltPro magazine)

Senator John McCain suggested in mid-April that we remove taxes from gasoline for about three months to help families foot rising costs. I wasn't sure I heard the report correctly so I researched it. Luckily, it looked like enough folks were reeling from the announcement that he'd back off the idea.

But it struck me. When I lived 26 miles from my office, I counted my pennies to fill up the oh-so-sensible sedan that I keep in clean and constant repair, right down to the nitrogen-inflated tires, for excellent fuel economy. Trust me, that thing is still in constant repair. It has 173,000-plus miles on it. I'll drive it until it gasps its final cough and sputters to a stop at the side of the road. (Hopefully, one of you faithful readers will be in a work zone nearby.)

My point is I'm not about to buy one of these gas-guzzlers that McCain knows so many consumers own. He suggested we forego putting money into the economy-stimulating Federal Highway Trust Fund to help consumers save some cash. In turn, we'd spend the money saved in other areas, and transportation-dependent businesses, such as delivery services, would get a break as well.

While one of those goals is laudable, the other is not. As the editor of AsphaltPro, a magazine that speaks to the road construction industry, I would prefer having a job to saving a few dollars at the pump next month. Wouldn't you prefer to be employed as well? I can see a swell in the number of layoffs in this industry if we suddenly lose a couple billion dollars in highway funding this spring.

Here's the good news.

Consumers, while driving a bit less than we were this time last year, according to the Energy Information Administration (see Last Cut on pages 41-42), haven't given up driving altogether. Families may opt for vacations closer to home this summer, but they're not hitching up horses to a buggy to go. Trade and commerce still rely on over-the-road transportation to get goods to market, thus truck drivers still fill up the tank and carry the load. The folks who were my neighbors when I lived 26 miles from my office still drive to town to work every day and still buy gas to do it. And guess what? That getting-to-work phenomenon happens all over the United States (and beyond).

It's apparent in the accommodations manufacturers build into their automobiles that consumers expect long commutes. Look at the features you can select for multi-tasking ease while spending an inordinate amount of time in the family car. From sending text messages to searching XM stations to finding your way through foreign streets to relaxing against a pre-warmed back massager, cars are designed to let you forget how long you've been sitting in a leather bucket recliner while the engine in front of you burned the gas for which you spent $3.70 a gallon.

The moral of the story is consumers still demand gas for their vehicles, thus crude oil is still purchased, thus AC is still made, thus asphalt producers can still track prices through supply chains. The wheel keeps on turning. Consumers will continue to put much-needed funds into highway funding coffers as long as the tax is in place. Now, keeping that tax in place is up to us.

You can let your representatives know how important the current user fee is to your livelihood, to the maintenance of safe roads in this country, and to the building of needed infrastructure to reduce congestion and pollution by writing to them. Get their contact information at

Stay Safe,
Sandy Lender, Editor

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