AGC pushes new Congress for increased transit funding

The Associated General Contractors of America set in motion its two-year priorities for the 109th Congress yesterday calling for passage of the Federal Highway Safety Administration’s Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Act of 2003.

AGC maintains the federal transportation-funding bill is vital to create jobs, reduce congestion, upgrade road conditions and save lives. The group backed a prior federal transit bill called the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, the legislation of which expired on Sept. 30, 2003.

The TEA-21 bill has operated under short-term extensions since its expiration, the most recent of which passed in February 2004.

AGC CEO Stephen E. Sandherr said during a joint press conference with American Association of State Highway and Transportation officials that without a federal commitment to transit funding, states would continue to delay work on transportation improvements.

“We are calling on Congress to pass TEA-21 reauthorization immediately before we lose another dollar’s worth of purchasing power, another life to substandard roads and before America loses its competitive edge,” Sanherr said.

The TEA-21 bill was originally enacted June 9, 1998 during the Clinton Administration. It authorized federal surface transportation programs for highways for a six-year period. More than $218 billion in funding has been authorized to states for transit spending, half of which was used for core federal-aid highway programs such as interstate maintenance, bridge replacement and rehabilitation and air-quality improvement.

AGC contends the TEA-21 bill was a success, and has worked with Congress to increase highway trust fund receipts by an estimated $24 billion during the past six years in addition to helping pass provisions in both House and Senate bills to make highway workzones safer for workers and motorists.

Randy Pech, president of Adarand Constructors, Inc. in Colorado Springs, Colo., said though his company isn’t heavily involved with AGC, it still approves of their legislative priorities for the coming year. Pech’s company employs 45 people and installs guardrail on Colorado roads and highways.

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“I’m for it 100 percent,” Pech said. “Anything that has to do with funding roads we benefit from.”

The TEA-21 reauthorization bill, dubbed SAFETEA for its new emphasis on saving lives on the nation’s roads, would provide more than $201 billion in funding for highway and safety programs, and nearly $46 billion in funding for public transportation programs for fiscal years 2004 through 2009. The new bill would also seek to expand state and local funding flexibility, streamline environmental review of transportation projects and increase the efficiency of the nation’s freight system among other provisions.

Sanherr said a strong construction industry is vital to the U.S. economy. Construction jobs account for approximately 9.8 percent of all employment in the nation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS reports construction jobs have increased strongly during the past 10 years, and it expects the industry will experience a 15.1 percent growth from 2002 to 2012.

Patrick Beeson can be contacted at [email protected].