Lobbyists for various modes of transportation -- roads, rail, aviation, even bike enthusiasts -- have done a good job of hanging together this year in advocating for infrastructure investment. Everyone from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the AFL-CIO is saying the same thing to policymakers: You can't afford not to invest in infrastructure, which, by the way, also will create jobs and grow the economy. At this stage of the game, when lawmakers and lobbyists alike haven't delved beyond the talking points, infrastructure investment is win-win for all.
Times are about to get tougher. The available pot of money from which lawmakers can dip to write a six-year highway bill could shrink by as much as one-third if Republicans get their way on the budget for next year. The lack of funding for infrastructure is likely to create competition for the remaining scraps between rail, roads, and bicycles. As Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., pointedly told National Journal last week, "When you shrink this down, then all of a sudden you risk a food fight" among coalition members. "Politicians don't like to choose between trucks and railroads and pedestrians and bikes."
It's been clear for months that the transportation community and the Obama administration aren't going to get everything they want in a surface transportation bill. Some lawmakers acknowledge that a shorter-term bill might be necessary since the $300 billion needed to maintain the highways and waterways over the next six years simply isn't there.
What is at risk if the transportation community is seen by Congress as being at war with itself during the creation of a surface transportation bill? How can infrastructure advocates keep the sibling rivalry among transportation modes at bay? Would it be better for the various modes of transportation to accept half a loaf that is evenly divided than to risk getting no loaf at all?