Spotlight on transportation also casts shadows

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 2/13/2013

Transportation and infrastructure got a brief moment in the prime-time spotlight during President Obama’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, but behind any bright light there are shadows.

President Obama rolled out two proposals to fix America’s infrastructure, including 70,000 structurally deficient bridges. While the announcements drew applause from Congress, small-business truckers were left wondering about specifics and how they will be affected.

The first plan called Fix-It-First calls for a quick infusion of $50 billion to pay for urgent infrastructure needs.

“Tonight, I propose a ‘Fix-It-First’ program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country,” President Obama stated.

With any proposal, the devil will be in the details of what was said – and what was not said.

Congress must find a way to plug a $138 billion gap in the Highway Trust Fund after the current highway bill expires.

President Obama made it clear that the administration would call on the private sector to invest in infrastructure, going beyond highways and bridges to include pipelines, power grids and ports. He called it Partnership to Rebuild America, the second of his proposals.

“And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most,” he said.

OOIDA supports a robust federal transportation program paid for by user fees, namely the fuel tax. The Association opposes a patchwork of public-private toll roads and alternatives such as a tax on vehicle miles traveled to pay for infrastructure.

“No one believes that a magic bullet is available at this point to supplant fuel taxes,” said OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Laura O’Neill. “We’ve heard it ad nauseam that raising taxes is not popular, but they are far better than any other option offered so far. At what point did we stop doing something because it’s only 95 percent effective? We’ve never had anything that was 100 percent.”

O’Neill said truckers are also concerned about overregulation and the competitive playing field in trucking that favors big businesses.

Other agencies and groups reacted to the State of the Union with cautious optimism. One of those was AASHTO, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

“AASHTO salutes President Obama for again calling for greater investment in America’s infrastructure,” Bud Wright, AASHTO executive director, stated.

“Now we need to work together to tackle the most pressing issue facing our transportation system: How are we going to pay for it?”

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