Counting on a Conference Committee

|  March 21, 2012 |

As this issue of Aggregates Manager was going to press, everyone inside the Beltway was talking about the need for transportation reauthorization. The question is whether talk will lead to action. Even Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is in the dark on that one. In late January, he told Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting attendees that, “We’ll probably have to wait until next year to get a surface transportation bill because of the huge differences (between the House and Senate bills).” A day later, he backed off that comment, saying, “We’ve got the president, we’ve got the chairman in the House, and we’ve got the chairman in the Senate all talking about a surface transportation bill. Hallelujah! Maybe we’ll get a bill this year.”

Common ground between the Senate bill (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21) and the House bill (The American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act) offers hope that a compromise can be reached. Both are predicated on existing funding levels. Both streamline the timetable from inception to completion of highway projects. Both consolidate the number of federal programs involved in the process. Both increase the percentage of gas tax dollars returned to each state.

However, significant disparities remain. The Senate version is a two-year, $109 billion bill, while the House version is a five-year, $260 billion bill. The Senate version would deplete the Highway Trust Fund, while the House version would ensure its stability for the foreseeable future.

Some of these differences can be resolved through a conference committee, but the more contentious issues are likely to revolve around the differences in mass transit allocations and funding methods. The House bill calls for a 25-percent cut in Amtrak subsidies and is under attack by mass transit advocates. One of its funding mechanisms — expanded energy exploration, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — has been called a non-starter by leading Democrats.

Now is the time to demand action. The latest SAFETEA-LU extension expires at the end of the month. Neither Democrats nor Republicans can afford to be portrayed as do-nothings as they head into the presidential election. It is our challenge, as an industry, to hold their feet to the fire and demand the passage of an adequate transportation bill. The issue is too important to too many to allow partisan politics to continue.

 

3 Things I Learned from this Issue

1. Cab visibility and monitor placement impact equipment operator satisfaction, page 20.

2. A feeder that is narrower than the pre-screen can maximize material flow, page 27.

3. Valves and valve seats are among the most commonly replaced parts on classifying tanks, page 39.

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