The Other Side of the Glass Door

I had a dog once that loved to sunbath indoors, resting beside a sliding glass patio door. Outside would come strolling the neighborhood tortoiseshell cat, flop herself down on the other side of the glass and languidly do her own sunbathing.

My dog went nuts, barking, scratching, clawing and demonstrating 50 ways of tearing a cat apart. The cat kept up her lazy torture until she got bored and wandered off. She did enjoy her daily ritual. Anyway, once day I slid the glass door back without thinking and the dog was  suddenly, unexpectedly, free to launch a withering attack over the three feet gap between them.

You know what happened. It’s a bit like me and the new surface transportation bill. After three years of pushing and shouting and arguing loudly for it every chance I had, someone has opened the glass door and I’m not moving. The dog had actually looked at me with one of those head-shaking West Highland terrier looks that clearly said “why on earth did you do that?”

The point for our world I guess is that it is a new game with reauthorization legislation , and we have to adapt fast. We don’t really even have to time to ask “what took you so gosh-darned long?” or ” surely you could have done better.” Nope, we just have to work with what we have.

Keep in mind that this is a short-term bill and in our industry will start pressurizing members of congress right after the election to start thinking about and even working on the bill that will follow this one. The structure of long-term funding for highways and bridges is going to change and we’ll see that it he next bill. It has to be done right, not liked his one. There may be even more at stake with the next bill than with this one.

In the meantime what we most importantly get from this legislation is money through most of  2014 and, perhaps equally valuable, reforms; primarily reforms that will speed up projects and also give states more flexibility in using the dollars they get from Washington.

We need to do two things quickly. First, get the money flowing so long-terms projects can be undertaken to give construction companies some financial oxygen and a chance to regroup with some long-term planning, and in turn get people in our industry back to work. Some of the out of work are waiting for their old jobs back, and some of them highly skilled. But some have left the industry and may need to be hired back, and maybe the bill has enough money in it to do that. Maybe.

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Second, get the reforms in place — the bill itself is ample evidence of how a perfectly good idea can languish when politicians are involved. 

As for the money: how much is here? We’re guessing, okay I’m guessing, about $40 billion for FYs ’12, ’13 and ’14 (and of course there’s still some uncertainty about where some of it is going to come from). You know if someone had simply extended SAFETEA-LU for five years — oh well at least this one is just called MAP-21.

The door is open, let’s barge through and get things done.