There are some 150,000 bridges in need of repair in the United States, according to the Department of Transportation. Last week's 5.8 magnitude earthquake sent engineers out to inspect many of them along the East Coast to ensure their safety, a prescient reminder that bridge and road solidity can't be taken for granted forever. "This is insanity. We can't rely on earthquakes to make us take a closer look at our bridges and roads, and we certainly shouldn't be in a situation where structural issues in 100-year-old bridges are going unnoticed," said Laborers' International Union of North America General President Terry O'Sullivan.
If an earthquake won't get peoples' attention, how about a Sept. 30 deadline? LIUNA and other transportation groups are sounding the alarm that without congressional action to reauthorize surface transportation funding, hundreds of thousands of job could be in jeopardy and the safety of the roads and bridges in question. "Without reauthorization, projects will have to be dramatically slowed, with a moratorium on new projects, because the state cannot carry federal-aid projects on its own," said Kentucky Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials notes that Congress will only meet for 11 legislative days before the 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax expires, leaving the highway trust fund without any inflow.
Lawmakers aren't anywhere close to sealing the deal on a full reauthorization of the surface transportation system, so the best hope for those relying on transportation funding is some kind of extension. But Congress has a few other things on its plate, including deficit-reduction talks, negotiations over the Federal Aviation Administration legislation, and ongoing funding for the entire government (which also expires Sept. 30).
Your predictions are welcome. Can transportation break through the mayhem? Will the gas tax be subjected to scrutiny and ridicule by Republican fiscal hawks? Or will it skate through unnoticed as part of the continuing resolution? Will the job creation in transportation resonate enough to engage lawmakers in maintaining the highway trust fund? Short of another earthquake, is there any hope for retaining current surface transportation spending levels?