At the Heart of Our Economy

April 20, 2012
Long-range budgets are vital for current and future transportation planning.

(pull quote) [One would think a great nation would plan five or 10 years out ...]

When it comes to growing the economy, how are we planning to get where we want to go? Whether locating a fast-food restaurant at a key intersection or building a manufacturing plant with air and rail connections, business leaders begin their site search with a review of transportation options and infrastructure. Regardless of the mode, it takes the cooperation of political leaders to plan and install these large-scale projects, and years to bring them on line. One would think a great nation would plan five or 10 years out – two years, or less, seems way too short for something so important to our economic health. Current headlines indicate otherwise.

With the recent passage of the ninth extension of SAFETEA-LU, we can now plan 90 days ahead with some certainty. Beyond that we can only speculate. In an effort to reduce future deficits, House leaders proposed to reduce Highway Trust Fund spending by 36 percent for the 2013 fiscal year. It's unclear how states and cities would deal with such steep cuts, but since all are struggling now to keep bridges repaired and buses running, it wouldn't be pretty. Maybe this proposal is political posturing for a negotiated final bill, but a dramatic reduction is not a growth solution.

Forward-thinking transportation solutions are vital to our economic health and quality of life, with states struggling to patch both their roads and the funding mechanisms. From the executive summary of the Connecting Washington [State] Task Force:

"The transportation system is the backbone of Washington's economy, providing the vital connections that link our homes to our work places and carry our products to market. State highways and ferries, county and tribal roads and city streets, transit systems, rail networks, airports and seaports, must all be well-coordinated and well-maintained to enable people and goods to move safely and efficiently throughout the state. Our state's population is projected to grow by more than 28 percent during the next decade, placing greater demands upon our transportation system."

Our funding mechanisms have to be revised in line with advances in technology. One obvious example would be updating our motor fuel tax formula. With more fuel-efficient cars, hybrids, fewer miles driven, and the spending power decreased for the money raised, it is time for an overhaul.

Perhaps next year, after the dust settles from the November elections, politicians will be willing to work together toward transportation funding solutions that would keep America moving forward.