Friday, February 18, 2011

Let's Sue Someone in 2011

(from the January 2011 editor's note in The AsphaltPro Magazine)

A new year always rings in with people asking what your New Year’s Resolution will be. I find that irritating 99 percent of the time. As a magazine editor, I have goals and deadlines every day of my life. As a member of the asphalt industry, I have additional goals that involve legislation and letters to city planners. Why would I add more? One of the goals I’d like to specify this January is to talk less about this obnoxious funding issue we’ve been facing the past few years. Aren’t you sick of it? Aren’t you ready for a big ol’ lawsuit to put it to rest?

Think about it.

Roads need to be fixed. The entities that own the roads must be responsible for fixing them or the motorists getting injured are going to sue the pants off those entities. (Pardon my glibness; it’s a function of my frustration with the subject.) I have to believe that once the first multi-million dollar lawsuit hits the courts for a federally-funded highway that didn’t get federally fixed because Congress couldn’t gets its collective act together on funding, we’ll see faster action. What’s the saying? It takes money to make money. For our purposes, I think it takes a discussion of loss of money to make money.

Perhaps that’s cynical, but it’s better than sending zombies from the concrete industry’s ill-planned pollutant-reactions to frighten our representatives into passing meaningful legislation. (See last month’s editorial column.)

I mean, the House did vote in a landslide 212 to 206 victory to approve H.R. 3082 back on Dec. 8, which would have continued appropriations for all of FY11. That means all federal government operations, including federal surface transportation and aviation programs, would get extended authorization through Sept. 30. Status quo, people. Status quo. That should be good enough for government work. Then the Senate stepped in and said, “wait, we’d like to add these 7,000 special items right here.” Enter government progress, right?

So we ended up with more hashing and re-hashing of the same old argument about spending and money and funding and earmarks. In the end, the continuing resolution will only carry our working government through March 4. Name one state DOT that can plan with that.

James Oberstar, ousted rep from Minnesota, got up Dec. 8 to say he’d rather we were voting to approve an adequate transportation bill that funds a real highway plan. Amen, Brother! As stated on the website, Oberstar stated that H.R. 3082:

• rescinds all remaining highway earmarks designated in the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act of 1987 (STURAA) (P.L. 100-17);

• rescinds all remaining highway earmarks designated in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) (P.L. 102-240);

• rescinds all highway projects designated in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21) (P.L. 105-178) that have not obligated at least 10 percent of the funds authorized for the project; and

• rescinds all High Priority Project program funds authorized by the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) (P.L. 109-59) that were not designated for use on a specific project.

What’s left? Apparently, we have $42.3 billion for federal-aid highway programs and $10.5 billion for federal transit programs. I think we’re all aware that that’s not enough to maintain the current system, let alone allow DOTs to plan ahead for serious maintenance projects or congestion-relief projects down the line.

It looks like 2011 is going to be another spot-check kind of year for industry. I encourage you to call on your Congressmen about funding, but I’m sick and tired of harping on it. I don’t want to spend the next nine months of FY11 haranguing readers to do what should have been done two years ago. This industry needed a long-term authorization plan, and a reliable system to pay for it, long before H.R. 3082 rescinded items and offered meager droppings from Congress’s table. If you’ve not already made the decision to participate in this May’s legislative fly-in to discuss this with your representatives, I can’t imagine a few sarcastic comments in my frustrated editorial column will convince you that you need to add it to your calendar.

Maybe you need to fall back to Plan B: Find someone who’s already had an accident or lost a loved one on a deteriorated federal roadway. Convince them to sue the pants off one of those Congressmen.

Let’s get to work.

Stay Safe,
Sandy Lender (sandy at theasphaltpro dot com)
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