By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor
President Obama is urging Congress to pass a short-term surface transportation bill as soon as the session resumes next week, and to follow that up with a focus on longer-term reforms. Truckers are calling on both Congress and the White House to take the opportunity to prioritize roads and bridges.
The current transportation program, known as SAFETEA-LU, expired in September 2009. Since then, Congress has relied on a series of short-term extensions to keep transportation programs funded.
Obama is calling on Congress to do one more but then get to work on a longer-term bill that includes reforms.
Adding to the urgency is the fact that federal taxes on gasoline and diesel are set to expire a month from now if no action is taken.
During a White House press conference on Wednesday, Aug. 31, President Obama said a longer-term transportation plan should reduce waste, speed up project delivery and give states more control over transportation spending. The goal is to get the economy jumpstarted again, just the way the railroads and interstate systems did when they were built.
“When it comes to our roads, bridges and transit systems, we shouldn’t just be playing patch up or catch up, we should be leading the world,” Obama stated.
OOIDA leadership says it’s crucial that Congress and the White House focus the conversation on highways and bridges.
“While it is important that Congress and the White House come to an agreement on legislation to extend surface transportation programs, it is even more important that the next highway bill focus the limited money available on road and bridge improvements while reducing the red tape that is holding up needed and beneficial transportation improvements,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said.
The U.S. House and Senate are working on their respective versions of a longer-term surface transportation bill. So far, both versions take a “back to basics” approach.
But details are hard to come by beyond the descriptions provided by House and Senate leaders.
“Now is not the time to spend money on things we don’t need,” Spencer said. “These limited funds should not foot the bill for a variety of special-interest projects like bike paths and high-speed rail.”
OOIDA leadership also cautions against the reliance on public-private partnerships as a way to solve funding challenges.
“In recent months, foreign investors have talked about using our economic and infrastructure challenges as cover for purchasing more of our roads and bridges and adding tolls to the roads that are keeping our economy moving,” Spencer said.
“Congress should resist this effort and listen to the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General, which in a recent report cautioned that the only way most PPP projects can work is if the private investors are provided with significant tax benefits from the public.”
Copyright © OOIDA