Unfinished Policy, Funding Issues Echo Across Summer Congressional Recess

AASHTO Journal, 14 August 2015

While another short-term patch to the Highway Trust Fund and a long recess gives Congress time away from Washington without stopping highway projects, many officials and infrastructure investment advocates are using this month to highlight funding issues.

In Lincoln, Neb., on Aug. 12, Sen. Deb Fischer hosted meetings with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and local officials to discuss infrastructure needs and visit a major highway interchange project.

Fischer, who chairs a Senate surface transportation subcommittee, also co-authored with Foxx an opinion piece that ran in the Lincoln Journal Star and covered infrastructure policy issues. The U.S. Department of Transportation also posted it on its Fast Lane blog.

In it, Fischer and Foxx emphasized the importance of good road networks to the flow of goods and economic strength, and urged Congress to complete work soon on a major surface transportation bill instead of more short extensions.


“America also needs a long-term infrastructure strategy,” they wrote. “The federal government must provide state and local policymakers with the right tools to maintain and update our infrastructure or build new projects. Unfortunately, Congress has relied on 34 short-term extensions since 2009, disrupting major infrastructure projects and causing stress for road builders, local officials and the traveling public. We can and should do better.”

In neighboring Iowa, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers said it was staffing a booth Aug. 13-18 at the Iowa State Fair and planned to carry the investment message to presidential candidates who were expected to visit that event.

The fair in the first-in-the-nation presidential caucus state has traditionally been a magnet for candidates in the year before voters start casting ballots.

AEM President Dennis Slater said: “Manufacturing workers in Iowa want to know how our next president will support this vital industry. How will the next president rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure? How will the next occupant of the White House work to support tax and trade policies that keep manufacturers globally competitive? We’ll encourage presidential candidates to answer those questions both at the State Fair and events in Iowa in the months to come.”

Also penning a home-state article on infrastructure was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. He wrote in the Lexington, Ky., business publication The Lane Report that final congressional passage of the Senate-passed DRIVE Act would be good for the state.

“The situation is dire,” the senator wrote. “More than one out of four bridges serving Kentucky are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. The rate of congestion on our state’s roads outpaces the average. And the deteriorating condition of our roads costs drivers an additional $941 million a year – which comes out to $315 per motorist.”

Across the country, McConnell noted, “major infrastructure projects like roads and bridges, however, take years to build. Without the certainty of long-term legislation, states find it difficult to plan for and undertake these kinds of projects.”

He said the House is now working on a bill and “I look forward to the House acting soon on similar legislation that will benefit Kentucky and the nation. With a long-term highway bill like the DRIVE Act signed into law, we can rebuild our infrastructure, ease growing congestion, and improve traffic safety for Kentuckians. We can support jobs and boost the economy.”

Back in Washington, Capitol Hill staffers continued to work on legislation and policy papers. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., had said, when the House voted for a three-month extension to Oct. 29, that the short-term measure “continues to fund road, bridge, and other infrastructure improvements for America while providing the House time to put forward a fiscally responsible long-term surface transportation proposal when Congress returns and then go to conference with the Senate.”

Senators who pushed their long-term bill through that chamber on July 30, along with approval of the extension, cited Shuster’s statement about going to conference as a sign a final long-term reauthorization of surface transportation programs could pass Congress this fall.

And the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which is chaired by John Thune, R-S.D., and includes Nebraska’s Fischer, released a midyear report on its 2015 achievements that underscored the rail, highway safety and freight transportation sections it contributed to the long-term highway and transit bill.

But like Fischer and Foxx, that committee report also pointed to the work that lies ahead. It said: “While the Senate has approved a multi-year surface transportation bill with key freight and passenger rail (S. 1626) and safety (S. 1732) reforms put forward by the Commerce Committee, the House of Representatives has yet to pass a multi-year bill. With a current extension lasting only until the end of October, the House and Senate will have to work together to enact critical reforms.”

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