Contractors, road builders, truckers come out against ‘devolution’ bill

Traffic stopped in both directions on I-40 between Memphis and Little Rock, a not uncommon situation.Traffic stopped in both directions on I-40 between Memphis and Little Rock, a not uncommon situation.

Whether you’re politically conservative or not, the idea that the federal government should abandon its responsibility for interstate transportation is a bad one.

So road builders, construction suppliers and highway users have written Congress to express opposition to the so-called “devolution” of the federal highway program and the proposed Transportation Empowerment Act.

The bill, introduced in the House and Senate last fall, transfers almost all authority over federal highway and transit programs to the states over a five-year period.

It would lower the federal gas tax to 3.7 cents from 18.4 cents over the transition period, and during the five-year phase out states would receive block grants that come with fewer federal controls over how the money is spent.

“TEA is ill-conceived and by stripping away most federal funding for surface transportation projects, would virtually eliminate the federal government’s constitutionally mandated role in promoting interstate commerce,” the letter, dated Sept. 16, says. “Devolution … would prove disastrous to state and local governments’ ability to maintain and improve their transportation systems when it is widely acknowledged that current resources are seriously insufficient.”

More concerning to me, as the resident of a small, rural and relatively poor state, is that the national infrastructure will be seriously threatened by devolution. Arkansas can barely keep I-40– a critical cross-country artery – open as it is.

And what good is it going to do a rich state like Texas, gateway to critical North-South trade, if their beautiful super-highways turn into pot-holed tracks at the stateline?

The opposition coalition includes the Associated General Contractors of America, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the National Asphalt Pavement Association, the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association, the National Utility Contractors Association, the Portland Cement Association, American Trucking Associations, AAA, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Highway Users Alliance and others.

The bill sponsors, however, frame the legislation with conservative principles such as increased local control and a streamlined, more efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

“Under the Transportation Empowerment Act, Americans would no longer have to send significant gas-tax revenue to Washington, where sticky-fingered politicians, bureaucrats, and lobbyists take their cut before sending it back with strings attached,” said Sen. Mike Lee, R.-Utah, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. “Local communities should finally have the flexibility to develop the kind of transportation system they want, for less money, without politicians and special interests from other parts of the country telling them how, when, what, and where they should build.”

In explaining the bill, however, Lee acknowledges that “transportation infrastructure is one of the things government is supposed to do – and conservatives should make sure it is done exceptionally well,” but he then insists that because big government’s gone wrong, Congress should give up this fundamental responsibility. Really? How ’bout fixing the problem, senator?

In the video below, House sponsor Rep. Tom Graves, R.-Ga., explains the bill to Fox News.

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GovTrack gives HR 3486 – which has 52 co-sponsors, all Republicans – a 2 percent chance of getting out of committee and 1 percent chance of being enacted.

Indeed, “devolution proposals are not a solution to the long-term infrastructure funding question, but rather serve as a distraction from the debate about how best to fund our nation’s infrastructure,” the opposition letter concludes, calling on lawmakers to work toward a new surface transportation bill before MAP-21 expires in May. “Congress must act now to avoid prolonging the ongoing funding crisis that is the result of failure to provide long-term, stable funding for transportation.”

And I’m pretty sure most of the groups signing the letter aren’t famous for their liberal views.