At the White House this morning, President Barack Obama—joined by Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce COO David Chavern among other business leaders - called on Congress “to move forward in a bipartisan way to pass a clean extension of the Surface Transportation Bill.”
This legislative push comes ahead of a new Administration initiative, slated to be announced by the president next week, that will consist of a package of proposals designed to spur job creation and improve the economy.
Surface transportation spending on highways and mass transit projects is set to run out on Sept. 30. According to the Administration, the funding extension would protect almost one million U.S. jobs and strengthen the nation’s infrastructure.
“President Obama is right to tell Congress to focus on the long overdue highway bill,” ATA senior vice president for legislative affairs Mary Phillips said. “We saw the havoc that a temporary shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration had on that sector, and the country cannot afford the job losses and lapse in safety programs that would result from the highway bill expiring.”
Phillips said more extensions are no replacement for a long-term federal highway authorization.
“Given the unlikelihood that the House and Senate will agree on a long-term bill by the Sept. 30 deadline, another extension is necessary,” she said. “However, Congress must also quickly craft a well-funded multi-year transportation bill that focuses federal resources on projects that are in the national interest and reform federal rules to improve the safety and efficiency of the highway system.”
“It is encouraging to see that the president understands that the strength of our economy is tightly connected to the quality of our infrastructure,” Steve Sandherr, CEO of lobbying group Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), who attended the White House announcement, told Fleet Owner. “The best way to rebuild our economy, boost private sector business activity and put people back to work is to begin tackling the nation’s large, and growing, infrastructure debt.”
Indeed, AGC, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce today issued a joint statement “urging policy makers to take immediate steps to create jobs in the [infrastructure] design and construction industry.”
“The value of construction put in place each year equals between 5 and 8% of annual GDP,” said Kermit Baker, AIA chief economist. “The goods that this industry provides are the buildings and infrastructure that define our built environment and provide the foundation for a modern, developed nation.”
“The devastating problems facing the construction industry are crippling our broader economy,” added AGC’s Sandherr. “You can’t fix our economy until you fix the construction industry.”
Sandherr stated that policy makers should act on the proposals outlined in the association’s construction-industry recovery plan, Build Now for the Future.
“Investments in transportation and water infrastructure, schools and hospitals not only create jobs immediately in the design, construction and manufacturing sectors, but these investments also create assets that improve productivity and quality of life for decades in the future,” said Ken Simonson, AGC chief economist. “Similarly, allowing these assets to deteriorate costs the economy dearly, and makes future construction more expensive.”
The economy and the nation’s long-term debt will be the hot topics when Congress returns from its August recess next week. According to a Bloomberg.com posting today, GDP “climbed at a 1% annual rate from April through June, down from a 1.3% prior estimate,” per figures released by the Commerce Dept. on Aug. 26. The news post also stated that “combined with the 0.4% annual rate of growth in the first three months of the year, the past two quarters were the weakest of the recovery that began in mid 2009.”