A Highway of Uncertainty

Surface transportation may come to a halt if another extension isn’t granted, but when it’s finally reauthorized it’s uncertain what it will entail.

by Tina Grady Barbaccia

Waiting for the reauthorization of the surface transportation bill is like waiting for Godot. Waiting for Godot is an absurdist play by Samuel Beckett that follows the lives of two men for two days while they divert themselves while they wait expectantly for “Godot “to arrive. The men say Godot is acquaintance, but they say that don’t know him well and would “hardly recognize him” when they would see him. In the meantime, the men eat, sleep, converse, argue, sing, play games, and do anything else they can think of to pass the time.

It’s the same with the reauthorization of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), our current transportation bill that originally expired Sept. 30, 2009, and at Aggregates Manager press time, had undergone seven extensions with a possible eighth one on the way. SAFETEA-LU’s predecessor, Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), underwent 12 extensions. Obama has called for a clean extension of both SAFETEA-LU and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) bill. The president said it would be “unacceptable” and “inexcusable” for Congress not to extend the laws before Sept. 30, 2011, when the latest extension of the surface transportation bill is set to expire.

The industry patiently waits for a bill to be passed, although its members has no idea what it may look like, what it will included and how much money it will be worth. In the meantime, the industry is doing anything it can to pass the time — and anything it can to simply survive.

President Barack Obama is due to unveil new job creation measures on Sept. 8 — just more than a year after he rallied the masses in a “Labor Fest” speech on Sept. 6, 2010, in Milwaukee. (For the Aggregates Manager report on the “Labor Fest” speech, go to http://www.aggman.com/obama-reveals-50-infrastructure-proposal/.)

During the Labor Day 2010 talk, Obama revealed plans to spend at least $50 billion throughout the next six years to rebuild 150,000 miles of roads, lay and maintain 4,000 miles of railways, and to restore 150 miles of runways in an effort to give the economy another jumpstart and to move the nation forward.

Obama acknowledged the hard-hit construction sector, pointing out in his remarks that nearly one in five construction workers are unemployed and the fledgling economy has been extremely difficult for workers and families in this sector.  “I know these are difficult times,” he said in his remarks. “When times are tough, I know it can be easy to give in to cynicism…But I just want everybody here to remember, that’s not who we are. That’s not the country I know. We do not give up. We do not quit. We face down war. We face down depression. We face down great challenges and great threats. We have lit the way for the rest of the world.    ((For the text of President Obama’s Sept. 6, 2010, speech, go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2010/09/06/remarks-president-laborfest-milwaukee-wisconsin)

Now, it’s more than a year later and the economy is still fledging. Although the job market seems to have some have seen some growth, it still hasn’t recovered. In the latest jobs report from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. saw a loss of 5,000 jobs in August. However, the unemployment rate for the U.S. construction industry declined down one-tenth of a percent from the previous month to 13.5 percent and year-over-year, the industry has added 4,000 jobs according to the U.S. Labor Department’s Sept. 2 report.

“At a time when a lot of people in Washington are talking about creating jobs, it’s time to stop the political gamesmanship that can actually cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs,” Obama said in his Aug. 31, 2011, address. “This should not be a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. I’m calling on Congress…to pass a clean extension of the surface transportation bill, along with a clean extension of the FAA bill, to give workers and communities across America the confidence that vital construction projects won’t come to a halt.”

Obama noted that funding projects based on whose district they’re in needs to end. “No more bridges to nowhere,” the President said. “No more projects that are simply funded because of somebody pulling strings. And we need to do this all in a way that gets the private sector more involved. That’s how we’re going to put construction workers back to work right now doing the work that America needs done.”

In reaction to Obama’s call for a clean extension of a “clean extension” of U.S. surface transportation legislation, Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-Fla.) said he would agree to one additional highway program extension, “this being the eighth of the overdue transportation reauthorization.”

National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) Chairman Dave Thomey, executive vice president of North East, Md.-based Maryland Materials Inc., lauded Obama for urging Congress to act to extend the surface transportation law now while work is being finished on a comprehensive reauthorization bill. “The president seems to have heard the chorus emanating from NSSGA’s grassroots and the grassroots of our transportation coalition partners that Congress must extend the law immediately to preserve jobs and provide certainty while work is completed on a multi-year reauthorization that, at a minimum, maintains level funding,” Thomey said in a written statement from NSSGA.

For a transcript and video of Obama’s Sept. 1, 2011, speech, go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/08/31/remarks-president-transportation-bill-and-faa-bill-extension.