Proposed Senate highway bill: What does it mean for local fleets, contractors?

Updated May 20, 2014

highway-workThe Environment and Public Works committee last week sent its federal transportation package to the full Senate, putting a bipartisan stamp on the six-year plan in a unanimous vote.

The bill, S.2322, “The MAP-21 Reauthorization Act,” now awaits action by the Senate Finance committee, which must find a way to pay for it in light of a failing Highway Trust Fund. The Commerce committee will examine safety and regulatory issues while the Banking committee will review transit programs.

MAP-21, the current transportation authorization, expires Sept. 30.

The American Trucking Associations has long made a robust, highway-focused reauthorization a top priority, but what does the Senate bill mean for your local, hard-working truck fleet?

First off, the six-year, $265 billion package has to be paid for, and the current mechanism – the gas and diesel tax-supported Highway Trust Fund – is expected to run out money by the end of summer.

That means either gas taxes will have to go up or new revenue sources such as additional tolling will have to be developed. Congress, however, has been unwilling to take a risky political position.

Corporate tax reform, as well as a push for private investment in public projects, have been proposed by both Congress and the Obama administration. Critics, however, argue that transportation projects need to be supported by user fees, not by diverting money from general revenues.

Why does all this matter? For many contractors, infrastructure projects mean work.

“As our national highway system ages and many roads and bridges exceed their life span, members of Congress need to figure out how we are going to cover the growing costs of maintaining and expanding these critical public assets,” says the chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America, Stephen E. Sandherr. “If we don’t, too many businesses and commuters will be forced to bear the cost of more traffic delays, crashes and vehicle repairs as billions of dollars worth of construction projects come to a halt this summer.”

That is why the members of the AGCA will continue to participate in the Hardhats for Highways campaign that is designed to educate members of Congress about the many local economic benefits of investing in roads, bridges and transit systems.

To date, construction workers and owners participating in this campaign have sent nearly 6,000 messages to 406 members of Congress urging their support for a new surface transportation bill and new revenues for the Highway Trust Fund.

The White House says that inaction by Congress puts 700,000 jobs at risk, while the Senate EPW committee calculates passing its bill will result in 3 million direct and indirect jobs.

Beyond jobs, of course, are the benefits of a transportation system that works.

Even though your drivers don’t go cross-country, just getting around town can be difficult. Several initiatives in the bill are aimed at reducing urban congestion.

Additionally, the bill contains provisions to encourage alternative-fuel vehicles.

Stay tuned.

Follow the extensive coverage of the reauthorization debate on our sister site CCJ.