ARTBA chief blasts inaction on highway, transit bill

If Congress and the President do not act later this year or in early 2011 on passage of a new, multi-year highway and transit authorization bill, hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs could be lost and states could face at a 50-percent cut in federal funding, American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) President and CEO Pete Ruane warned industry executives gathered in Pittsburgh, Pa., for the 27th International Bridge Conference (IBC).

Despite the positive impacts of the economic stimulus law, a fundamental challenge remains, Ruane said. “America needs a new comprehensive and integrated vision, and a robustly-funded national transportation program for the 21st century,” he said in a press statement reporting on the IBC.

“Many politicians in Washington are saying that we need to get more innovative and creative in passage of a new bill,” the ARTBA CEO said.  “Unfortunately, ‘innovative’ is usually a code word for ‘we can’t raise user fees,’ and simply reflects their lack of political will.”

Ruane lamented the “land of the lost, inertia, inaction and downright ineptitude” on Capitol Hill as it relates to the transportation bill, saying, “partisanship and dysfunction are the rule, not the exception.”

He pointed to a steady stream of research and think tank studies, and two congressional chartered finance commissions that have completed reports highlighting the nation’s surface transportation investment challenges and the need for timely action.  He also said there is unified business, labor union and construction industry support for new user fees. 

“Objective research, sadly, has not carried the day or spurred congressional action.  We are in limbo and face threats from many directions,” Ruane said at the IBC. He was referring to the ongoing precarious financial condition of the Highway Trust Fund, the end of stimulus highway and transit funds in late 2010, a possibly divisive battle over investment levels among the various transportation modes, and efforts to pass a Senate climate change bill that that includes a “de facto gas tax increase” that could preempt and maybe doom the passage of a new reauthorization bill. 

He told the IBC participants that these threats and the continued delays would have negative impacts on the future health and stability of the bridge market.

Ruane says the inertia can be overcome with “vocal and sustained” grassroots activity by transportation design and construction firms, public agencies, unions and the business community. 

He urged industry executives to take advantage of the upcoming July 4 and August congressional recesses and invite their members of Congress and staffs to their offices and jobsites.  

“Show them the real-world job and economic impacts, and safety benefits of strong transportation investment,” Ruane said. “Tell them to take action now on passage of a robustly funded highway and transit bill. Strong grassroots pressure is the key to creating the political will for Congress and the President to take action.”.