Thursday, June 2, 2011

Vote to Extend Now Rather than Later

by AsphaltPro Magazine Editor Sandy Lender

I’m a pretty optimistic person. I do ascribe to the theory that “only the paranoid survive,” but that’s more of a survival mantra than a viewpoint. When it comes to the transportation funding options floating around Congress these days, I’d say my take on things mirrors a mix of paranoia, preparation, hope, prayer, survival plans—a cornucopia of caution, if you will. When it comes to Congress, I don’t often feel comfortable.

For instance, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is what I’d call a loon.

She presented a nearly $340 billion plan ($339.2B over six years to be precise) for surface transportation legislation from her Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last week that would authorize funding for six years. The mind-boggling aspect of her plan, given all the talk of the Highway Trust Fund an
d reliable funding during the past few YEARS, is its lack of funding suggestions.

The woman went on record saying that’s the Finance Committee’s job.

Really, Babs? Can no one follow through anymore? Does no one take responsibility for the schemes they create? You sound like Ray LaHood. (with less whining)

As if the $340B price tag—and its football-field-size gap from what The House has been murmuring about—isn’t enough to make a reader stop and say, “Wait, will that pass in today’s climate?” here’s something else of interest she’s suggested for state departments of transportation (DOTs) that are trying to make long-term plans concerning development, redevelopment and repair.

Borrow what you need.

Thousands of former homeowners can comment on this option. Boxer recently joined the cheerleading squad to expand TIFIA (the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act). This act gives low-interest loans to states for their federal transportation projects. Apparently, Congress has magically increased TIFIA’s lending power from $122 million annually to $1 billion annually. Boxer encourages state DOTs to get on board the housing market—I mean the transportation market train now to take care of their long-term projects.

Look, no one has the crystal-encrusted magic wand that makes all members of Congress—especially the freshmen members who don’t think they have a stake in transportation legislation—suddenly work in blissful harmony to pass a highway authorization bill within the next four to six months.

Senator Boxer has done her Democrat best to present a plan for which someone else will need to prep a funding plan, and John Mica (R-Fla.) will need to raise his sights to reality to get a little closer to her plan. Then everyone else will need to work in concert to draft a bill that gives the transportation industry the money and the confidence it needs to repair the infrastructure that’s been floundering during the highway bill extensions the past couple of years and to build the roadways that ease congestion (thus pollution) and assist economic recovery where necessary.

If no one in Congress thinks that bill can pass in the next four months, they should go ahead and vote for the SAFETEA-LU extension now, rather than waiting for it to come up to its next deadline in September. Then state DOTs can at least plan for the immediate future and immediate, emergency needs.

(Opinions are those of AsphaltPro Magazine Editor Sandy Lender.)
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