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Brad Maier, Published October 02 2010

Highway funding at risk

I would like to take this opportunity to alert you to the problems that are being caused due to the lack of a multiyear transportation bill. The current transportation act (SAFETEA-LU) expired on Sept. 30, 2009. Three separate short-term extensions will allow the federal highway program to continue through the end of this year. After that, who knows? There is no plan forward, and therefore long-term transportation and transit projects are not being designed or bid for construction.

Historically, Congress has enacted six-year transportation bills that allow our state and local governments’ time to plan and design projects that will meet the need to develop and maintain our systems of highways, bridges and public transportation, which drive our economy and protect our citizens. A long-term bill also allows contractors to invest in the expensive equipment that is needed to construct our infrastructure.

Commerce depends on a transportation network that provides reliable, fast, safe and cost-effective performance. Transportation is also an important source of economic development by creating jobs across construction, engineering and manufacturing sectors, which reinforces the economic foundation of North Dakota.

While short-term funding extensions have allowed the program to continue, and the federal stimulus dollars for transportation have helped prevent a severe decline in employment, now is the time for Congress and the administration to commit to long-term funding. Short-term extensions do not allow either state and local governments or contractors to plan to efficiently invest in improvements.

Please urge Sens. Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan and Rep. Earl Pomeroy to enact a new six-year plan now and to address the funding status of the federal highway trust fund to adequately deliver the resources our transportation program needs. The longer they take to implement such an act, the more costly projects become and the more our infrastructure deteriorates.

The delay in implementing a new transportation plan is a concern. Also a concern are actions that further reduce an already depleted federal highway fund, similar to what was included in the $2.2 billion rescission of highway contract authority that was contained in the recently enacted $26.1 billion state bailout bill. The time for Congress to act is now.

Maier is president of the Association of General Contractors of North Dakota.