AASHTO Journal, 5 June 2015
In a special new report on AASHTO’s Transportation TV, three heads of state departments of transportation speak about the importance of federal funding for them to plan infrastructure projects, and urge Congress to enact long-term legislation.
Those agency CEOs – Pennsylvania’s Leslie Richards, Scott Bennett of Arkansas and Tennessee’s John Schroer – tell TTV that they would have to sharply rewrite their state project priority lists if federal funds are not available.
“We count on $1.6 billion a year, just Pennsylvania alone, in federal funds,” says Richards. “Without it, it would completely erase what our state program has done, because we would have to reprioritize all of our projects.”
Bennett explained how the short-term extensions of the Highway Trust Fund that Congress passed have disrupted Arkansas projects. His agency has shelved nearly $300 million worth of projects that it would have bid out to contractors this year if the federal fund flow was assured by law.
“Contractors that have counted on that work, have staffed up for that work – that work’s not going to be available for them this year,” he said. “The safety is going to be continue to deteriorate, and there’s a compounded impact” when states cannot count on the funding stream.
Schroer also said the nation faces extra costs from inaction on federal trust fund legislation. Tennessee was the first state to announce last fall that it was idling construction and engineering projects in 2015 – $400 million worth – because it had to have federal dollars at the ready when contractor bills would come due.
“This nation was built on strong infrastructure,” Schroer told TTV. “We became so great because of strong infrastructure, and we’re abandoning that principle.” Meanwhile, he said, other nations are taking up the infrastructure lesson and investing.
By failing to invest adequately, he said the United States could find itself back in conditions of poor roads across country, such as before it launched the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s. “We’re going to back where we were, with crumbling roads, in the ’50s,” Schroer said, “and other countries are going to surpass us.”
The lesson, he said, is that “our leaders have got to stand up and take notice, and make the right vote.”