Jay Hansen is executive vice president of the National Asphalt Pavement Association. He’s led the organization’s efforts to secure federal highway funding and even convinced the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History to install a permanent asphalt pavement exhibit. He says he’s been reading Streetsblog Capitol Hill since it started publishing. I talked to him Friday after the association’s first-ever Washington “fly-in” to strategize about legislation and lobby Congress. T. Carter Ross, NAPA’s Vice President for Communications was also with us.
We began by discussing the current state of federal transportation funding before turning to the topic of how that money should be spent.
Tanya Snyder: I wanted to ask you about the fix-it-first policy. At this point there’s potentially money behind President Obama’s policy, because he has this $50 billion program. But money aside, in constrained times, as asphalt contractors, do you advocate for a fix-it-first model or would you advocate for concurrent expansion as well?
Jay Hansen: We advocate, definitely, a fix-it-first policy. We haven’t been continually investing in our roads to keep them smooth and perform well. And the reason for that is that there’s not enough money coming in the trust fund; we haven’t raised the gas tax in 20 years.
We need to expand the system where it makes sense, but we need to fix what we have as well. ASCE gives the roads a grade of D.
TS: Do you use ASCE’s numbers when you visited Congressional offices? Not so much the grades, but I think ASCE says it would cost three-and-a-half trillion dollars to bring the country’s infrastructure up to a state of good repair. Do you support those numbers?
JH: Sometimes I wonder if we’re grading the roads in a way that the members of Congress go, “If we’re investing all this money and we’re only getting the roads up to a D, we’re throwing good money after bad.” When you’re up on the Hill, you’re almost at the 30,000-foot level, even with state-by-state data. You need people like contractors to go in and say, “In our community, if we had the money, this bridge would get repaired. Right now it’s been posted, you can’t drive trucks over a certain weight limit over that bridge.”
It has to be brought down to that level; it’s a kitchen table kind of talk, as opposed to, “Here’s a 700-page report that says we need to invest more in highways.” We’ve been doing that for years and I don’t think it’s working.
We’re part of the Americans for Transportation Mobility coalition led by the U.S. Chamber with transit, and unions are part of that. We’re all on same page. The purpose of that coalition is to get the business community more involved.
TS: There have been moves in Congress, with the last bill and since, to make the Highway Trust Fund go farther by eliminating trust fund funding for non-highway expenditures — things like transit and transportation alternatives. Where do you come down on that?
JH: The departments of transportation are multi-modal and they support highways and transit. We’ve had the highway/transit fights back in the 70s and 80s. I think those fights are over.