Obama signs $105 billion highway bill

President Obama on July 6 signed into law a combined transportation, student loan and flood insurance bill at a White House event.

The House and Senate on June 29 passed a new two-year $105 billion surface transportation reauthorization bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), the AASHTO Journal reports. The measure, H.R. 4348, passed the House 373-52, just before the June 30 expiration of the ninth extension of SAFETEA-LU. The Senate passed the bill 74-19, according to the AASHTO Journal report.

Pete Ruane, president and CEO of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) says that both Republicans and Democrats deserve a lot of credit for the new surface transportation law, pointing out that the law is going to restore public confidence in the federal highway and transit investment program.

“This wasn’t business as usual, just ‘rearranging the deck chairs,’ adding pet programs and throwing money at congressional earmarks,” Ruane said in a written statement. “The new law is truly a ‘good government’ measure that makes the significant program reforms necessary to set the stage for meaningful, transparent and accountable federal transportation investments in the future.”

Ruane says that instead of having Congressional earmarks, the law focuses federal dollars “on meeting critical national needs like efficient freight movement and driving down the number of motor vehicle crashes that result in unnecessary American deaths and injuries.

“It eliminates, consolidates or streamlines dozens of programs, giving state and local governments more decision-making control,” Ruane added in the press statement. “It opens the door to more private investment in large, congestion-busting transportation projects.  And, most importantly, it ushers in performance standards and reporting requirements so that the public will now know how their federal  transportation dollars are being used and what kind of return on investment they are receiving.”

Ron Summers, senior vice president, Materials Division, for Glendora, Calif.-based CalPortland Co., lauded the bill, saying that it assures the employment of 3 million Americans in the construction industry, where unemployment has outpaced the national rate.

National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) President and CEO Joy Pinniger says the bill will help put the aggregates industry back on the road to economic growth.

“Every $1 million in aggregates sales creates 19.5 jobs, and every dollar of industry output returns $1.58 to the economy,” Pinniger said in a written statement from NSSGA. She noted that the bill includes reforms that consolidate programs and eliminate program redundancies, as well as expediting the project approval process.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calls the passage of transportation bill “a good, bipartisan bill that will create jobs, strengthen our transportation system and grow our economy.” LaHood notes in an official press statement that the bill “provides states and communities with two years of steady funding to build the roads, bridges and transit systems they need.”

Lisa Carson, marketing manager for KPI-JCI and Astec Mobile Screens, which heads up The Road Connection, a nationwide initiative to highlight the need for increased road and infrastructure funding, echoed these sentiments. Carson also noted that the “measure is far from perfect,” [but] it gives our contractors and dealers the stability they need to continue their operations and provide jobs to millions of Americans. As an American manufacturer, we know that this bill will help stimulate equipment sales, which will be used to fix our crumbling roads and bridges.”

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee calls the bill “the jobs bill for the 112th Congress.” Mica says, “The unprecedented reforms in this legislation — cutting red tape, truly making projects ‘shovel ready,’ shrinking the size of the federal bureaucracy, attracting more private sector participation, and giving states more flexibility to address their critical priorities — will ensure that we more effectively move forward with major highway and bridge improvements and put Americans back to work.”

Despite this progress after three years of short-term extensions, Congress still has to worry about the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which will be depleted in 2015.