ARTBA calls for investment to upgrade US network

Jan. 1, 2008
The Nation's status quo highway program is no longer acceptable and needs to be reformed, refocused, restructured, and refinanced, according to Pete Ruane,

The Nation's status quo highway program is no longer acceptable and needs to be reformed, refocused, restructured, and refinanced, according to Pete Ruane, president of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA).

He made the comments at ARTBA's 19th Annual Conference in November on Public-Private Ventures in Transportation.

In his presentation, Ruane outlined the association's vision for the future federal highway program. It includes greater investment to repair and upgrade the current highway/transit network, and creation of a new federally-led program to provide the capacity and intermodal connections necessary to facilitate the safe and efficient movement of freight.

Ruane stressed that all funding options must be on the table, including private investment, expanded user fee mechanisms, and leveraged funds.

“We need a program that meets the needs of Americans in this century,” he said. “In the 1950s, the federal government embarked on a major initiative in partnership with the states to build the Interstate Highway System. This objective transcended parochial concerns of individual states and provided a clear sense to the public about the value of their financial contributions to a national transportation system.”

Two challenges

He said that there are two similar challenges facing the US transportation system today. He called for upgrading the existing system to meet the demands currently being placed on it and for preparing for the future growth that will, among other things, significantly impact the ability of the US economy to remain competitive in the global marketplace.

ARTBA's vision for the federal surface transportation programs would reform, refocus, and restructure them to address two separate, yet equally important, objectives. “First, the program should focus attention and substantially greater financial resources on upgrading and protecting the nation's enormous past investments in surface transportation infrastructure,” he said. “The proper mechanism for that is the federal highway user fee, or gas tax.”

He also said that the federal government should play the lead role in initiating a program focused on providing substantially new capacity necessary to meet US freight movement and emergency response needs in this century.

“We call it the Critical Commerce Corridors or 3C program,” he added. “We would fund it with new, fire-walled freight-related user fees, private investments, and leveraged funds.

ARTBA leaders have presented these ideas to the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission that is chaired by Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, as well as congressional committees.

In recent months, the National Asphalt Pavement Association, the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association, the Portland Cement Association, and the American Concrete Pavement Association have endorsed the 3C proposal, he added.

AASHTO, the state transportation officials' group, included the 3C proposal in a set of recommendations it sent to the federal commission in July. Leaders of the American Trucking Associations also have spoken favorably of the approach, Ruane said.

“It should be noted that top leaders of national business groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers are publicly expressing a willingness to look at all revenue options because of the dire state of our transportation network.

“We can start with high-cost, yet high pay-off improvements to the Interstate Highway System. For example, the Federal Highway Administration already has identified almost 200 highway interchange bottlenecks that each cause more than 250,000 hours of truck delay annually. Existing right-of-way can and should be used to address these.”

States identify

He pointed out that the states have identified many multi-state regional projects, such as the Great Plains International Trade Corridor that runs through nine states, including Texas and North Dakota, providing access from Mexican gateway cities and ports in Texas to population and distribution points to the Canadian gateways.

Another example is the Ben Franklin Corridor that is designed to link the strategic port of Philadelphia with significant commercial and military hubs in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, and New York.

However, he added that the US can't say it has a National Corridor Infrastructure Program and only provide $400 million per year spread across three dozen projects.

“The nation's transportation needs are so great — and without proactive steps we are rapidly approaching crisis stages,” he said. “The only way to realistically address this situation is to utilize both traditional and non-traditional methods…That is why ARTBA is a strong proponent of increasing federal Highway Trust Fund revenues and expanding the use of public private partnerships. Only through a combination of these approaches can meaningful progress be achieved.”