Blog: A Clarion Call for American Independence from Short-Term Extensions

Here we are again: Similar to Memorial Day, AAA is predicting a record number of travelers around the July 4th holiday. The nation’s auto club – which sees eye to eye with the ATM Coalition on the need to progress the country’s transportation infrastructure – estimates nearly 42 million Americans will travel over the Independence Day holiday; this would be the most in eight years.

The economy and cheaper gas prices will be fueling this increase in travelers, and the large majority of them will be on the roads – 35.5 million driving 50 miles or more – as opposed to flying or rail travel.

Also like Memorial Day, we have another looming deadline for MAP-21, reauthorizing legislation that provides funding for the Highway Trust Fund, the primary funding mechanism for the nation’s federal highways, bridges and public transit systems. Right before MAP-21 was set to expire (May 31), Congress ducked their responsibility to provide long-term, ongoing funding for the trust fund, instead passing a bill to provide two-months of funding and barely pay for the upkeep of those systems.

This problem is not going away unless Congress solves it. In recent news reports, AAA also pointed out that Americans have driven a record number of miles – 987.8 billion – in the first four months of 2015, and instead of responding to this trend, and providing states with the money they say they say they need to fix and modernize their crumbling transportation infrastructure, Congress is one month away from another looming deadline.

This two-month fix is the just the latest in a series of extensions, and the pattern has created uncertainty and a lack of confidence among state transportation officials nationwide, and the very real impact of at least seven states delaying or canceling projects valued at $1.63 billion; a total of 19 states have expressed concerns about the feasibility of future transportation projects.

Last week, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) announced that, without Congressional action, 435 transportation projects that rely on federal funding could be impacted, and an additional 101 projects could be delayed. This is not a made-up problem; it’s real, and it’s impacting every American business and family.

One bright spot was the recent introduction of the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act (DRIVE) Act, which we applauded both because of its long-term approach but also because it swiftly passed with unanimous approval through the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee. With this action, the Senate is finally heading down the road to a long-term, fully funded transportation program. As the ATM Coalition said in a statement about the DRIVE Act: “The wheels have gone around and around in Congress while the nation’s roads, bridges and public transit systems have deteriorated.

“Now it is time for the rest of Congress to follow the lead of Senate EPW leaders and Committee members.” That includes the other authorizing committees, tax-writing committees, House and Senate leadership, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee – and the entire U.S. House of Representatives.

Congress has gone out on recess for the week, with many of them going back to their home states and districts. This provides a timely opportunity to ask them what in the world they are going to do over the next four weeks to help solve this problem. Maybe they’ll do next to nothing, and pass another extension – which would be bad for America. But maybe YOU can do something to prevent that from happening:

  • Find your member of Congress at one of the many political or public events they’ll attend and tell them it’s long-past time to pass a long-term transportation bill.
  • Call or write them to give them your story about how America’s transportation issues are impacting you, your business or your family.
  • Share your story about the impact of the current transportation situation through an opinion piece in your local newspaper.
  • However you share your voice, with Congress or others in your community, communicate the need for passage of a bill that 1) provides funding certainty for transportation-related revenues; 2) includes an ongoing revenue stream; 3) seeks to meet today’s and tomorrow’s demands on our national transportation network; 4) adequately funds American’s transportation needs; and 5) is actually collectible by the federal government.

At some point this week, speak up for American independence from short-term, ineffective and even wasteful extensions that barely keep the Highway Trust Fund alive. And by all means, travel safely!

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