Details emerge in White House 'Fix-It-First' campaign

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | Thursday, February 21, 2013

The White House has shed more light on a proposal to fix and upgrade infrastructure including 70,000 deficient bridges.

In his State of the Union earlier this month, President Obama laid out “Fix-It-First,” a plan to invest $50 billion into transportation infrastructure with $40 billion toward roads and bridges, transit systems and airports. At the time of the speech, the plan did not contain many specifics.

On Wednesday, Feb. 20, the White House released a fact sheet, saying the plan could fix 80 percent of the bridges deemed to be structurally deficient. For truckers, that could mean more direct routes and not having to deal with weight limits.

The White House’s recognition of the need for good roads and bridges drew praise from small-business truckers.

“We certainly share the administration’s recognition of the importance of improving infrastructure particularly roads and bridges,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said.

The White House fact sheet begins to lay out options for paying for infrastructure, including attracting private investors. Seed money could help create a national infrastructure bank, pay for a bond program similar to the “Build America Bonds” program of 2009, and expand the federal loan program known as TIFIA – Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.

Spencer says no matter what the program, the money has to come from somewhere.

“There’s a general recognition that we need to be doing a whole lot more,” he said. “That general recognition starts going jelly-legged when it comes time to actually collect the money to make it happen.”

“As highway users, we already have a tremendous investment in our roads and bridges, and that’s not an investment that we take lightly or are open to simply casting away,” Spencer adds. “We need a user-fee supported system, and right now, for the foreseeable future, the most viable way to do that is through fuel taxes.”

Spencer says truckers may be willing to pay more in fuel tax as long as they get assurance from government that the money they pay into roads and bridges actually goes for roads and bridges.

At this stage, “Fix-It-First” provides assurance, but also leaves questions unanswered, for many with a stake in transportation.

U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-PA, released a statement of acknowledgement for the program, but questioned the long-term viability.

“Our nation has significant long-term infrastructure needs that must be addressed and responsibly paid for to improve our economic competitiveness, efficiency and quality of life,” Shuster wrote. “I welcome the president’s interest in improving our infrastructure. However, the president’s plan appears to be only a short-term proposal for long-term challenges.”

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