It’s no secret; this is in an election year. Putting the political banter and party differences aside, there is one issue that everyone, no matter the party, can agree is an important one: Our nation’s infrastructure. Our economy is fueled by transportation and boosting it could be the nation’s unifier.
Senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, Alice Rivlin, points out that it is clear our infrastructure – especially our roads, bridges and water systems – are, in fact, “deteriorating.” A timely example of this was recently announced in our home state of Missouri. The bridge over the Missouri River in Jefferson City was being prepped for new paint when the blasting process to remove the old paint revealed the structure itself was not in good condition – a larger amount of rivets needed replaced than expected. Repairs are now underway to ensure the public’s driving safety, but this highlights just one example of the public safety issues going on with infrastructure we have no clue exist, yet depend on to get safely to our destinations. This particular bridge had approximately 28,000 vehicles using it a day. From a financial perspective, if the bridge had to be replaced in entirety, the cost would come in at 100 million dollars versus spending maintenance dollars to keep it in repair and safe at all times.
A big problem in fixing these worsening roads and bridges in the past two decades is the Highway Trust Fund. It is a transportation fund which is funded primarily from a federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon for gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon for diesel fuel, and that rate has not increased in over 20 years. The remainder comes from taxes on trucks and trailers, tires, and certain types of vehicles as well as interest credited to the trust fund. This fund is to pay for road and other transportation projects, and it has been running on a deficit and is predicted to run out of money late this summer.
The last highway bill, passed in July 2015, authorized transportation programs through late October 2015 and transferred $8.1 billion into the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). At the time, lawmakers thought the money would extend the life of the trust fund only to December 2015; but transportation officials realized that by slowing down the construction of projects this past winter, they would be able to stretch the funds until late summer of 2016.
United States Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx has urged the adoption a long-term transportation bill with increased funding, stating this past June 2016 that “[t]he state of our nation’s infrastructure is not a partisan talking point; it is a problem facing all Americans… As I have said many times, we cannot build tomorrow’s transportation system with yesterday’s policy and yesterday’s funding.”
Foxx is looking forward to working with both parties to pass a long-term bill that aggressively boosts investment and changes outdated policies so that America can build for the future. By modernizing the nation’s infrastructure, it will boost the economy and create more jobs.
American Trucking Association Immediate Past President and CEO Bill Graves has also spoken out on the HTF over years, realizing that the federal commitment to investment in transportation – if not properly addressed right now – could be placed in jeopardy for many years, or even decades, to come. Newly appointed ATA President and CEO, Chris Spear, will hopefully see some much needed and significant gains begin early in his leadership tenure.
Historically the development and improvement of infrastructure has been a bipartisan effort, and as November’s election nears, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will likely expand on their own infrastructure investment plan. The issue will become not only which candidate is effective, but which candidate actually means what they say.
Now is the time to push all candidates, Democrat and Republican, to commit to real infrastructure improvement and hold them to it.
Updates on the Highway Trust Fund can be viewed at www.transportation.gov.
Anna Beck is an associate attorney at Roberts Perryman. Anna’s practice focuses on transportation, insurance coverage and defense.
Roberts Perryman has been a leader in transportation defense for over 50 years with offices in St. Louis and Springfield, MO and Belleville, IL. http://www.robertsperryman.com