By the way: Highway bill to expire in 365 days

By Kevin Jones on

If Congress can’t even keep the doors of the federal government open, what are the chances for a substantial new highway bill by this time next year? What’s the alternative?

House of cards?

House of cards?

While the political class plays chicken over healthcare and continuing resolutions and debt ceilings, Oct. 1 also starts the clock on the end of MAP-21: 365 days and counting until the federal government’s authority to tax and spend on transportation projects expires.

The easy response is ‘good riddance.’ But seriously: Is the trucking industry prepared to deal with chaos?

Maybe ‘chaos’ is too strong. Maybe orange barrels for hundreds and hundreds of miles won’t be a big problem. Maybe it’s better if state legislatures set all fuel taxes and determine spending, with no concern for what happens just across the state line.

Trucking will adjust rates accordingly, shippers will accept the math and consumers will understand that prices must go up. And we’ll all have a merry April Fool’s Day.

Believe it or not, much of the freight that moves on trucks today was carried by train through the end of World War II. In 1945 rail’s freight revenue was nine times higher than that of intercity trucking companies. But for-hire motor carriers more than doubled their intercity revenue during the 1950s, while freight rail revenue stalled. By the 1960s most manufactured goods moved by truck. What happened? The U.S. got serious about building roads and truckers seized the opportunity superhighways provided.

And communities quickly discovered that a nice four-lane wasn’t just a matter of prestige. Good highway access meant economic development, so everybody wanted it and elected officials were glad to deliver and take credit.

The catch is finding enough tax money to go around. Doling out highway project dollars has always been political, so much so that Congress was shamed into eliminating earmarks. (And it could be argued that doing away with pet projects also did away with a key mechanism for spreading around the “bipartisanship”—wink, wink.)

Of course, someone still has to decide where the money is going, and post-pork policy has shifted that burden to the administration. So Peoria, Ill., gets a disproportionate amount of discretionary spending because its projects were more worthy than most, not because it was the home district of a congressman who became the Obama administration’s first secretary of transportation—wink, wink. Let’s not get into that transportation secretary’s tendency to push plans for rail and marine projects, based on how many trucks these would take off the road.

Well, let’s not get into it other than as a lesson learned on the importance of having a voice on Capitol Hill.

Lots of people have made lots of money building public roads. And they still want Congress to kick in plenty of federal funding, just like Congress always has. Roads are complicated to build and maintain, so everyone from the design engineers to the asphalt suppliers to the companies that make reflective tape are sending lobbyists to Washington. Those are good allies for trucking to have.

But road builders don’t care where the money comes from, as long as it’s coming. Toll revenue spends just like fuel tax money, after all. Private capital spends just like public funds.

Developing sustainable, predictable funding for a multi-year transportation plan is where the real action should be in the coming year, and trucking has to be prepared and involved.

Piecemeal local government planning and private management of cherry-picked, profitable segments cannot maintain the continental highway system trucking depends on. That’s a job for a fair and focused Congress—and that’s why we all should be worried.

Tick-tock.

Kevin Jones

Kevin Jones is Senior Editor, Trucking Media, and writes from his home in Little Rock, Ark. His Fleet Street blog features whatever strikes his fancy and has at least a little connection to trucks, or drivers, or highways. Or David Allan Coe. (Google "the perfect country and western song" if you're not nearly as old as Kevin is.) You can also keep up with Kevin by following his Twitter feed (@KevinJonesCCJ) or just drop him a line: kevin.jones@randallreilly.com.

5 comments
gayleglass8
gayleglass8

Great post.  Even if it becomes a State instead of Federal issue, the fair distribution ( wink, wink) problems will still exist as each city and county has their own version of lobbyists!  And, as for not worrying what happens across the state line, we already have that issue in some places.

Cliff Downing
Cliff Downing

 The House submitted numerous budgets on over to the Senate for consideration.  All have been rejected.  The Senate leadership and the President will not negotiate at all.  So where should the problem lie?  On the folks who propose a budget, or the ones who will not even take it into consideration and negotiate?  The House is responsible for the submission of a budget per the Constitution, and they have fulfilled their end of the contract.  Seems the ones complaining the most, the Senate leadership and the President, over the shutdown ought to step up and fulfill their end of the contract before crying foul.

Giddyup
Giddyup

"That’s a job for a fair and focused Congress"

Where, oh where, will we find a fair and focused Congress? Certainly not here in the good old USA.

The chance that any of the current legislators will work together for anything is not good.

Maybe they can tie the repeal of the ACA to funding for the highways, wink wink.

"and that’s why we all should be worried" !

Giddyup
Giddyup

"That’s a job for a fair and focused Congress"

Where, oh where, will we find a fair and focussed Congress? Certainly not here in the good old USA.

The chance that any of the current legislators will work together for anything is not good.

Maybe they can tie the repeal of the ACA to funding for the highways, wink wink.

"and that’s why we all should be worried" !

Giddyup
Giddyup

It is true that the house has submitted their budgets, which were rejected by the senate; however, the budget process is substatially different than most congressional processes. The part of the process that is stalled is the reconciliation between the proposed budgets; which, house republicans have refused to appoint members to. Noone can negotiate with themselves. The budget process currently in use is no good if neither side can sit down to hash it out. The gridlock, now so entrenched in Washington, will not change in the near future. 



Must Clicks

Events

From Our Partners