This morning, the road construction industry rallied in front of the U.S. Capitol to demand that Congress invest in infrastructure. But some of the best-known transportation reformers in Washington were also on hand for an event that didn’t focus on one mode over others.
The overriding message of the day was simple: Don’t let transportation funding dry up. While the list of sponsors included mostly construction groups that want more money for their industry, many of them would be just as happy to build transit as roads. Kerri Leininger of the National Ready-Mix Concrete Association, one of the main organizing groups, said limiting the Highway Trust Fund to only highways, as some have suggested, is not their message.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer pushed for his bill increasing the gas tax by 15 cents over three years and indexing it to inflation. Rep. Peter DeFazio unveiled his new plan to replace the gas tax entirely with a per-barrel levy on oil companies.
Sen. Ron Wyden intoned, “When it comes to funding transportation, failure is not an option!” As chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Wyden is the person tasked with actually finding a way to fund transportation — and get it through both houses of Congress. He’s as aware as anyone of the looming possibility of failure.
“Don’t let anybody give you the suggestion that we throw another Band-aid on,” Blumenauer said. But at the same time, he’s resigned to the fact that the next move will be a Band-aid. Though the Senate is pushing ahead with the MAP-21 Reauthorization Act, the House hasn’t even started working on a bill. Blumenauer told an audience yesterday that the next task was to “transfer a small amount of money in to keep the program running but not enough to get into the next calendar year, the next Congress.”
His thinking is in line with an emerging consensus that the lame duck session of Congress after the November election is the best — and perhaps only — chance for passing a bill.
“Because if we lend into the next Congress, it’ll be three years before you get a full six-year reauthorization,” Blumenauer explained. “If we lend into the next Congress, it’s very unlikely you’re going to see people initiate the increase in revenue that is so long overdue.”
Organizers estimate that between 250 and 300 people were in attendance. The rally was part of the Transportation Construction Coalition Fly-In, and closer to 500 people are in town for that, lobbying Congress for infrastructure investment.