Why Road Builders Want a Transportation Bill Now

tea_21_extensions.jpgWhy do construction companies want a transportation bill now? Look in the blue circle. (Photo: ARTBA)

The clash between the Obama administration and senior House Democrats over passing a new federal transportation bill can be viewed on a number of levels: as an commentary on the lack of political will to tackle infrastructure, as proof that Washington is finally serious about climate change, and certainly as a spur to find new revenue sources.

But what about the economic recovery level -- that, as Roll Call reported today, the transportation bill "could arguably be called a [second] stimulus"? Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-OR), transport committee chairman Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN), and other lawmakers also have invoked this contention in their push to change the White House's mind on a new bill.

It's an argument that aligns with the road materials, design, and construction companies belonging to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA). The ARTBA is mobilizing its members behind Oberstar's call for quick passage of the House transportation measure, and the chart above explains why.

The Bush administration had to pass a dozen extensions of the previous federal transportation law (TEA-21) before the most recent bill, also known as SAFETEA-LU, limped across the finish line.

Those short-term extensions put new transit projects in limbo but also forced states and localities to stall planned highway projects, leading to three years of fairly static construction spending.

If static highway construction spending sounds like a good thing, consider that transit is also affected by the uncertainty of short-term extensions such as those resorted to between 2003 and 2005. Which is why one thing that most people in on the Hill agree on, whether they're transit fans or road boosters, is the need to ensure that the administration's 18-month extension is the very last time the old bill is re-upped.