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LONGITUDES

Now Is the Time to Pass a Highway Bill

Sphere of tangled roads

In one month — on Sept. 30 — the current surface transportation law, the FAST Act, expires. If lawmakers don’t act, they’ll miss a major opportunity to revive an ailing U.S. economy.

Known as the “highway bill,” the FAST Act funds the projects and programs making U.S. roadways safer, less congested and more efficient for all of us. Congress is already wrestling with large state and local transportation funding requests, as the coronavirus pandemic disrupts both travel and the broader economy.

In fact, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) introduced a bill that would have the federal government pay for the entirety of road projects this year and next year — the federal government typically foots only 80 percent of the bill. And just to make bipartisan legislation even more complicated, there is a presidential election right around the corner.

This won’t be easy, and many difficult decisions remain. But if we work together, we can deliver a solution for the American people at a time when they need our help.

“This won’t be easy, and many difficult decisions remain. But if we work together, we can deliver a solution for the American people at a time when they need our help.”

The state of play

Congress kicked into gear earlier this summer, but progress slowed when the latest stimulus negotiations stalled — and lawmakers have precious few working days between now and the November election.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed a bipartisan highway bill, “America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act,” but several committees are still working on their respective sections of the legislation for consideration on the Senate floor.

The House put forward the “Moving Forward Act,” a $1.5-trillion infrastructure package that includes a $494-billion highway bill, the “INVEST in America Act.” This massive infrastructure package passed the House in early July on a mostly partisan basis, and President Donald Trump already threatened to veto it.

That leaves only one month for final versions to pass each respective chamber, go through a cumbersome “conference committee” and finally, land on President Trump’s desk for his signature.

If Congress doesn’t pass a highway bill, they will need to at least approve a short-term extension to keep our surface transportation system funded, but that solution only kicks the can — and the hard decisions — down the road.

“The U.S. is long overdue for a highway bill that bolsters economic recovery while simultaneously delivering cost-beneficial infrastructure improvements to every American.”

Why we need immediate action

Also complicating this process is the fact that Congress must figure out how to actually pay for the highway bill. In recent years, funding gimmicks, not traditional user-pay methods like the gas and diesel tax, pushed the highway bill across the finish line.

But for highway users to pay more — a position with public support — they need to see the fruits of their investment. Transparency and clear communication about the improved driver experience are important when asking road users to put their hard-earned dollars on the line.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons we need a robust and long-term bill — and sooner rather than later:

     1. Massive highway and bridge investment needs

Such legislation helps make our roadways safer, more reliable and more efficient. The U.S. is long overdue for a highway bill that bolsters economic recovery while simultaneously delivering cost-beneficial infrastructure improvements to every American.

In fact, the latest edition of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Conditions and Performance Report on Highways, Bridges and Transit identifies a $786.4-billion backlog of highway and bridge investments.

Moreover, without prompt and strong action, this backlog will grow, as declines in federal and state revenues due to COVID-19 place downward pressure on federal investment in highway projects that fortify our economy and preserve personal mobility.

      2. Safety

Many Americans drive their car, motorcycle or truck every day to work, to visit family or for fun. Making sure our loved ones get home safely should be a priority for Congress.

Nearly 37,000 lives are lost, and 3,000,000 traffic injuries occur on U.S. roadways each year. We could reduce these staggering numbers with stronger policies and more funding for initiatives like the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) in the next highway bill.

The HSIP invests in low-cost infrastructure safety improvements such as guardrails, cable barriers, retro-reflective pavement markings and rumble strips, which will reduce traffic fatalities.

      3. Congestion relief

As we all know, time is money. Passing a highway bill that reduces traffic congestion will shorten daily commutes.

INRIX, Inc.’s 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard points out that Americans lost an average of 97 hours a year due to congestion, costing them nearly $87 billion — an average of $1,348 per driver.

When you look at these problems, it only makes sense to prioritize congestion relief. From the trucking industry perspective, the movement of goods is at the mercy of well-flowing traffic and predictable travel times.

      4. Reliability

Additionally, the highway bill needs to focus on both our goods movement and our highway system.

During the pandemic, reliable, efficient highways have been a key component in the fight against coronavirus, ensuring medical supplies, personal protective equipment, food, fuel and emergency services arrive safely and on time. Americans deserve a reliable highway system in times of emergency and times of prosperity.

“Americans deserve a reliable highway system in times of emergency and times of prosperity.”

Congress needs to hear from every American this summer about why a highway bill is important to them personally. Members of Congress were stuck at home for most of the spring, and they missed the traditional feedback from constituents on policy issues of concern.

We need passage of a robust and long-term highway bill before the Sept. 30 deadline. This will allow critical roadway projects to continue well into the future, which helps keep us safe, shortens our commutes and brings us home to our families faster.

Every highway user deserves to get a little bit of their time back, not to mention the widespread economic benefits of legislative action.

We have a short window to push this forward, and Congress needs to hear from all stakeholders. We urge you to call your member of Congress today and let them know we need a bipartisan transportation bill right now!

To learn more and take action, please visit: https://www.highways.org/advocacy/takeaction/.

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