Kicking the can

By |  July 20, 2012

After three years of short-term extensions, we finally have a highway bill, and that’s a good thing. But I feel bad for the people at organizations like the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association and others who worked long and hard lobbying for something better. Many wanted a longer-term bill that would provide a much-needed increase in infrastructure investment.

As it is, this new bill (MAP-21) provides funding level with the previous, and buys us just over two years — barely long enough to give aggregate producers the confidence to make large capital investments. Perhaps more importantly, the bill does not answer the question of how to fund highway infrastructure going forward.

An industry newsletter, Innovation Briefs, quotes former Gov. Ed Rendell, co-chairman of the Building America’s Future coalition, who says the bill lacks a “long-term sustainable and significant funding source.” Pete Ruane, president of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, comments, “The tough job of coming to grips with how to fund the nation’s investment in transportation over the longer term remains.” And Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, adds, “The revenue title kicks the can down the road, failing to put the Highway Trust Fund on a sustainable path forward.”

Not long ago, I was one of the voices suggesting a short-term highway bill (such as two years) might be a good solution to buy time until the economy improves. In two years, the thinking went, a stronger economy would make Congress more likely to consider substantial, multi-year infrastructure investment. Well, we have our two-year “bridge,” but now I’m beginning to think that shorter-term bills like MAP-21 are the new reality. I’m beginning to think that in two years, even if the economy is much improved, Congress may not venture down the road of a five- or six-year bill.

In Innovation Briefs, author Ken Orski says, “With a long-term funding source nowhere in sight, there is a growing sense among seasoned observers that the days of long-term transportation authorizations may be over. The prevailing fiscal and political climate makes it difficult if not downright impossible to raise hundreds of billions of dollars in a single legislative package.”

The good news to come out of this is that at least a two-year bill is better than short-term extensions, and its passage demonstrates Democrats and Republicans can comprise when necessary – even in an election year.

About the Author:

Darren Constantino is an editor of Pit & Quarry magazine. He can be reached at

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