Driving off the cliff?

By Mark Valentini, OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs

While addressing the Washington transportation community last month, DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx said the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund is “a dire situation” where the country stands to lose 700,000 jobs as a result of up to 112,000 highway projects coming to a halt when funding runs dry in August. Republican and Democratic transportation leaders in Congress are also ringing the warning bells regarding the cliff that the trust fund faces.

Truckers know full well the economic costs should the HTF’s problems not be addressed. It would affect not only those who haul construction materials, but also much of the rest of the economy. The impact of highway construction on the whole nation is huge. A big road or bridge project can’t just up and start again as if workers were coming back from a long weekend.

If Washington were to let the Highway Trust Fund become exhausted for any amount of time, it would be irresponsible – but what does that mean practically and politically?

OOIDA’s Todd Spencer and countless others have said, “There are no Republican or Democrat highways.” There would be plenty of bipartisan blame to go around should we drive off the highway cliff.

Lawmakers are already campaigning ahead of November’s midterm election, and they can’t simply blame “the other guy” for why the equipment at the local bridge or road project has been sitting empty for the past three months while people are out of work. A serious accident from road damage that wasn’t fixed – a possible scenario considering the busy summer driving season – would be even tougher to explain away. Therefore, it is in Congress’ best political interest to act, even if it’s just a short-term solution.

If a long-term bill doesn’t get signed into law before August, a “patch” – with just enough money to get the HTF through the end of the year – is the likely scenario. This is not an unusual policy solution, as gridlock in D.C. has caused similar short-term fixes to occur year after year with tax issues, and the same thing happened with the highway program just a few years ago. The practical problem with these short-term patches is that they eliminate certainty, which is critical for highway construction.

Managers overseeing a major project that takes several years to complete wouldn’t be able to look beyond the next few months to plan their work. This might result in scaling back projects or cutting corners to work within available funding. This runs the risk of forcing officials to look to tolling and privatizing highways.

Preventing this is in the interest of all truckers, so OOIDA will be working with the bipartisan transportation leadership in Congress to push for a long-term bill that addresses the HTF and advances the priorities of small-business truckers. LL