Transportation’s long-term versus short-term dilemma

| Friday, September 30, 2011

President Obama and others are out promoting his American Jobs Act proposal that includes $50 billion for transportation, but not everyone is convinced it’s the best way to create sustainable jobs.

On Friday, Sept. 30, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, promoted the plan during a conference call with reporters. President Obama unveiled his $447 billion proposal during a joint session of Congress on Sept. 8.

The proposal includes $50 billion in transportation spending and another $10 billion to create a national infrastructure bank that would loan money for projects of national significance.

Even with money in the plan that would create transportation jobs, some groups say they’ve had enough of the short-term plans and would rather Congress pass a long-term transportation authorization bill.

“Most immediately, Congress should pass robust, multi-year highway, transit and aviation reauthorization investment bills that have been languishing for years,” Peter Ruane, president of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, stated earlier this month in reaction to President Obama’s proposal. “They provide the best opportunity to improve the performance of our transportation network and put millions of construction workers back on the job quickly.”

ARTBA took a stab at the infrastructure bank idea, as well.

“An infrastructure bank as mentioned by the president is a critical tool to advance large scale, intermodal projects, and is certainly a part of the solution. But it will take many months to establish and have little instant impact on job creation or in fixing crumbling roads, bridges, and transit systems,” Ruane stated.

OOIDA leadership has also questioned the need for the infrastructure bank. The Association supports efforts to get a long-term transportation bill in place that doesn’t penalize truckers with an excessive tax burden or over-regulation.

“Our focus is on getting a bill done,” said OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs Ryan Bowley.

“As an Association, we saw what happened with the stimulus bill and we saw that a lot of major projects that could have dealt with congestion and traffic were not funded and that money went to local street projects and sidewalk replacements.”

The year of the first stimulus bill, the American Restoration and Recovery Act of 2009, cost $787 billion and was sold as being a transportation bill, but just 6 percent went to surface transportation. That was the same year that the long-term surface transportation policy known as SAFETEA-LU expired, and that has left Congress and the U.S. DOT functioning on a series of short-term extension bills, the most recent of which was passed earlier this month.

Sen. Boxer said she is hopeful that her committee, Environment and Public Works, can get a two-year transportation bill passed through the full Senate in the not-distant future funded at current levels. The hangup continues to be finding the additional funding to account for inflation.

House leaders are working on a six-year transportation proposal that would pan out to be at or below current funding levels, again dependent on funding.

In the meantime, American Jobs Act supporters say their bill is necessary in the short-term and say it is fully funded without increasing national debt.

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Much ado about transportation, and infrastructure bank