If you follow the news coming from Washington, D.C. and the various articles we write, then you are probably aware that federal funding for transportation improvements is in trouble. What you may not know, is that the source of this investment, the federal HTF makes up on average 52 percent of all state highway and bridge capital investments by state departments of transportation. In some states, that number is as high as 80 to 87 percent. U.S. Department of Transportation officials have already warned that as early as this summer, the agency would have to start slowing down reimbursements to state and local governments to preserve a positive trust fund balance and prevent insolvency. Moreover, if Congress and the President do not take action, there will be no federal money to support new highway and bridge projects in FY 2015. The current situation at the federal level puts the transportation construction market at an unprecedented level of risk. We, as individuals and as organizations, need our federal policymakers to act quickly. One of the most critical ingredients in producing positive results in Washington has always been strong grassroots participation from industry professionals. This is true now more than ever, given the HTF crisis. At these events we have the opportunity to meet face-to-face with our members of Congress and their staff and put in personal terms the impact this funding crisis could have on your business, and on the jobs and livelihoods of your employees—their constituents.
Last week, Board President Chris Rogers (Granite), Immediate Past President Ryan Mackey (Sunland Asphalt), Matt Clark with Psomas, and Arizona Transportation Builders Association (ATB) Executive Director, Ramon Gaanderse, attended the annual American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) Federal Issues Program held in Washington, DC. This event is also held in conjunction with the Transportation Construction Coalition Fly-In, which is made up of several hundred associations similar to ATB. Yes, that is right; we traveled to Washington, D.C. as ATB and not TUCA. As we shared with many of you, we changed the named in late May to better reflect our current membership and the feedback we got from you. We shared the name with other associations that came to D.C. and our Congress people.
Each of us attended several different meetings that included a transportation official’s division meeting, materials and services division meeting, which included Staff from ARTBA leading the discussion. This is where other associations could get updates from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Staff and to share what others are experiencing. Another meeting included the Contract Administration Committee meeting that included a Staff person from the (FHWA). This was a great time to hear what issues are facing the industry and what the FHWA is currently working on; Every Day Counts-2, 3D Engineered Models for Construction, Risk Based Stewardship and Oversight, Buy America, regulations to foreign governments, and more. Several attendees participated in each meeting. Other meetings included Environmental Committees with the FHWA and some young leader’s development programs.
In the trip, we also heard from ARTBA’s Chief Economist on various forecasts. It is clear the numbers are not near where the things were before the recession, but positive signs that more work is coming. Unfortunately, this is only true at the national level while State and local funding is being cut back according to ARTBA. Bridgework is at all-time highs currently, after last year where communities were getting pressure to repair some major bridges after unfortunate accidents occurred. Waterways also had some record numbers, but mostly contributed to the work being completed at the Panama Canal. In addition to waterways and bridgework, subway and light rail work are seeing high demands with extensions and maintenance. Airports are still recovering from the slowdown in passengers flying. Contract of awards has been low, mostly because of the uncertainty with the HTF and many States have already canceled or postponed projects until Congress acts on a bill.
One of the meetings also included speakers from Congress and the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx. Secretary Fox addressed the TCC this week and reminded us that potholes are not a democratic or republican issue. Senator David Vitter (R-LA), Repetitive Earl Bluemenauer (D-OR), and Representative Bill Shuster (R-PA) also Chairman of U.S. House Transportation Committee spoke to several hundred industry people about the upcoming rounds of hearings on the HTF. Prior, a panel of those who wrote the MAP-21 legislation addressed the audience about whether the industry will see a long-term or short-term bill. The industry is pushing for a six year $100 billion but the House is not sure, while the Senate has already decided. The bigger discussion remains on how this bill will be paid. It will need more than just one funding source and have to be a user based revenue stream; a gas tax, a national sales tax, a tax on gasoline prior to it reaching the pumps, and a few others. Congress knows this is a time sensitive issue and it was mentioned that although the U.S. House and Senate see things differently on the bill, Congress would present the President a bill this year.
The last day was busy with meeting our Arizona Delegation from Congress. We decided to focus our time last week with Arizona offices only and meet with six members of Congress and one Senate. We started with Congressman Barber. Not only was this a very engaging conversation with the Congressman but he was listening very carefully to each of us talk about Tucson and the State’s needs. The Congressman held this meeting in the House of Representatives, just steps away from the floor, where in fact the Congressman had to step away from our conversation to vote. We also had meetings with Senator Flake’s office, Congress people Kirkpatrick, Grijalva, Gosar, Franks, and Sinema.
We emphasized that our membership’s employee’s livelihood depends greatly on the HTF, which makes up 49% of Arizona DOT’s capital outlay for highway and bridge projects. Our community also relies on the HTF as an economic driver; which is ATB’s new tag line “Moving our Economy.” Finally, it is a matter of public safety; the HTF needs $100B over the next 6 years just to maintain current funding levels or the status quo. It was clear to us that everyone in Arizona agrees on the importance of a long-term bill for industry and DOT planning. It was also clear that there is little consensus on how to fund the bill. As a reminder ATB strongly supports passing a long-term bill now in this session, a variety of user based fees for funding, and indexing to avoid the declining revenue stream we currently have with the flat gas tax. For a quick overview and to contact your local member of Congress, please go to www.fixthetrustfund.org or hardhatsforhighways.org
This experience is open to any ATB member who wishes to join us for this annual trip and we cannot stress enough the importance of meeting with your elected officials.
The experience to be in Washington, D.C. meeting with other similar associations and other contractors across the United States does not happen often. Thank you to Chris Rogers, Ryan Mackey and Matt Clark for joining this important week.