Closer to E than F and heading for B


Let’s say you are rolling down the highway and watching the gas gauge on your dashboard as you go. You see it steadily going down. You are aware that it is heading to E. You roll on. It gets inevitably closer to E. You know if you don’t stop and fill up it will hit E and then you will stop somewhere not of your choosing. And while you don’t know the exact name of the creek, you are up it without a paddle.

What do you do? You stop and fill up.

Congress, on the other hand, keeps driving.

This is not a new story. It’s just another starkly obvious reminder that the Highway Trust Fund is heading towards B (bankruptcy) and if nothing is done it will get there and leave us, paddleless, in a creek.

This is testimony from Kim P. Cawley, chief of the Congressional Budget Office’s Natural and Physical Resources Cost Estimates Unit. He was addressing the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.

He makes three keys points we already know:

  • Starting in FY 2015 the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) will have insufficient resources to meet all of its obligations.

  • Since 2008, the Congress has avoided shortfalls by transferring $41 billion from the general fund. Another  $12.6 billion is scheduled to occur in 2014.  Another $15 billion will be needed in 2015 and more in following years.

  • “Lawmakers could also address the projected annual shortfalls by substantially reducing spending for surface transportation programs, by boosting revenues, or by adopting some combination of the two approaches. Bringing the trust fund into balance in 2015 would require entirely eliminating the authority in that year to obligate funds (projected to be about $51 billion), raising the taxes on motor fuels by about 10 cents per gallon, or undertaking some combination of those approaches.”

Yes, you’ve heard it before. Over and over.  I cite Cawley because of the coherence and focus on his testimony. What he presented is a base document. It lays it out so it is not possible to avoid the obvious conclusion. If we don’t find funding there is a strong probability (I’m going a little further than Mr. Cawley) that we will see substantially reduced spending for surface transportation programs.

That means less work for our industry. Period.

What are the odds that Cawley’s testimony will not shift enough political thinking to overcome the inactivity that is the reason we do not have much of a shot next year at getting some realistic proposals for adequate funding during the reauthorization process?

So, you are in the passenger seat, way out west somewhere where gas stations are few and far between and you are in a hot and hostile environment. You notice the gas gauge is almost at E. Then the yellow warning light comes on. Then that annoying bell starts ringing. Then there is a gas station!

Behind the wheel, your Congressperson rolls on by.