MAP-21’s reform timetable: Can it be maintained?

(Photo: Adam Williams / Flickr)(Photo: Adam Williams / Flickr)

Ah, yes, the reforms of MAP-21. Like a breath of fresh air they were.

Changes that would accelerate woefully slow project delivery times were finally coming, changes worth waiting for.

With MAP-21, our current two-year surface transportation legislation, came lowered expectations from a lack of adequate funding but raised expectations from reforms in the act. The most significant of those reforms had to do with increasing innovation in surface transportation project delivery and efficiency of project planning, design, construction and financing. They are found in the Act’s Subtitle C.

The Act lists 42 actions to be used to meet Subtitle C requirements. A new report from the Office of the Inspector General at U.S. DOT says these actions “mostly involve environmental issues that occur during the planning and design phase of highway and transit projects. The Department completed five actions, and most of the remaining actions are in progress.”

But there’s a but.

The report’s conclusion begins thusly:

“Approximately 9 months after Congress passed and the President signed MAP-21, the Department has taken action on many fronts to implement the legislation and has plans to complete 42 actions related to the acceleration of project delivery. While most of the Department’s remaining Subtitle C actions are in progress, a lack of completion dates for some actions combined with delays in some rulemaking actions could impede the Department’s ability to complete Subtitle C provisions in a timely manner.”

It’s not a cause for partisan dirt-slinging or a reason to call for an independent counsel to look into it, even in our current state of extreme political hypertension. But it’s well worth keeping an eye on because if those MAP-21 reforms do not get delivered as and when we expected them, MAP-21’s bright side gets tarnished and any reforms slated for it’s successor would be viewed with apprehension at best–and contractors and government transportation agencies can’t plan ahead with apprehension in the air.

We understand, Dear Congressperson, you won’t raise the gas tax, but if you can’t make reforms stick are they worth anything any more? Because without more funds all we have are the reforms (see MAP-21) and without reforms that will actually happen we have nothing worth much of anything to the long-term recovery of our industry.

So, no panic, but we’re watching and waiting.