Hardhats for Highways: New Association Stands up for the Construction Industry in Congress
At the very last minute, Congress has passed a stop-gap measure to keep the Federal Highway Trust Fund alive till next May. Practically on the eve of their departure for the annual August recess, the Senate finally agreed to a temporary funding bill the House had passed earlier last week. But it’s a tiny band-aid for the nation’s roads and bridges, many of which are in near-critical condition.
“Hardhats for Highways.”
To both maintain and step up industry pressure on Congress to do something substantive and long-term to establish more predictable and plentiful funding for highway construction and maintenance, a national coalition of associations and labor unions has created “Hardhats for Highways.” The campaign was announced in the spring at CONEXPO/CONAGG in Las Vegas.
It’s an all-out effort to get every transportation construction firm across the country actively involved in communicating their concerns about the ongoing lack of funding for highway and bridge projects directly to their individual district Congressional representative and their state’s Senators.
The campaign focuses on job retention.
Pete Ruane, president of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association and co-chair of the Transportation Construction Coalition, has stated that “the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of workers and their families depend on Congress finding a long-term and sustainable solution to financing the nation’s surface transportation network.”
The purpose of “Hardhats for Highways” is to educate Congress about that connection between highway funding and American jobs. To reinforce that message, the coalition is distributing “Hardhats for Highways” decals, asking each contractor to add the number of men and women their firm employs and then affix the decal on a real hardhat to deliver to their Congressional reps.
Construction firms are also being asked to back up their hardhat special delivery with emails that reinforce the campaign’s key messages. And they’re being asked to encourage each of their employees to personally contact Senators and Representatives, too.
The federal gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1993.
This tax is the primary source of money for the Highway Trust Fund, which was created in 1956. But the tax hasn’t been increased in 20 years. Not surprisingly, the cost of highway construction and maintenance has risen exponentially in the past two decades. Aside from a steadily declining pool of money for new projects, there are significant safety issues surrounding lack of maintenance.
The longer roads and bridges go unrepaired, the more dangerous they become and the more work and money it will take to bring them back up to safe travel standards for commercial trucks and passenger cars.
“Hardhats for Highways” has two recommendations for Congress:
- Enact multi-year funding authorization that will kick in when MAP-21 funding expires. With a multi-year program in place, states can predict funding availability and can therefore do a far more effective job of budgeting, planning and implementing long overdue repair and construction projects.
Currently, without additional funding for the Highway Trust Fund, no one is certain what could be funded in the near future, and the federal program has told states their projects in progress may even be in jeopardy. Construction companies and their employees could lose jobs, whereas long-term funding would ensure job stability and growth.
- Increase investment in transportation. This could be done by raising the federal gas tax, they suggest, or through fees based on vehicle miles traveled, sales of all fuel types or wholesale motor fuel sales. They also suggest fees could be enacted on oil exploration or on natural gas used for transportation. The goal would be to generate money to cover all costs of maintaining the federal highway system without deficit financing.
So with last week’s temporary funding extension, the 2014 Congress has once again avoided a lasting fix for highway funding, instead pawning it off on the next post-election Congress, and “Hardhats for Highways” will continue to educate and advocate.