Serious reauthorization talks spiral into likely short-term extension

By |  June 30, 2014

ISTEA. TEA-21. SAFETEA-LU. MAP-21.

Now what?

Uncertainty has surrounded the reauthorization of surface transportation funding before. But given the downward trend over the last 20 years in the length of reauthorization bills, plus considering the diminishing number of federal dollars made available in those bills (at least when considering inflation), concerns are again running high as the industry awaits a highway funding solution.

This uncertain, rocky road has been coming for some time, though.

“I’d say we’ve never had a more uncertain time about the future of how we’re going to fund highway transportation,” said George Reddin, managing director at FMI, at the Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference last fall.

A number of potential solutions have emerged from the federal government over the last few months. President Barack Obama outlined his vision earlier this year for a four-year, $302 billion bill. But that idea is a distant memory now considering more recent proposals have emerged such as the one Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore) drummed up that would extend MAP-21 by three months. An extension, however, would delay any major reauthorization until after the midterm election in November.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), a proponent of a long-term bill, backed Wyden’s proposal in a press conference NSSGA President and CEO Mike Johnson attended with other transportation stakeholders. And although transportation advocates must be disappointed about the downward direction reauthorization talks took, the fact that many advocates are now in support of a three-month extension means a Band Aid fix is probably the most we can expect from Washington this summer.

“We’re concerned about this impasse and this need to get past the short-term fixes for a long-term bill,” Johnson said. “We’re going to double our efforts to work with our grassroots to bring non-traditional advocates to the table. We need not just to hear from those of us in this business but from those of us whose businesses depend on a good system of infrastructure in this country.”

A short-term fix ultimately is not what the industry needs. But given how the talk has transitioned from multi-year bills to short-term extensions, a four-, five- or six-year bill is unlikely to emerge from Capitol Hill this summer.

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