Mica calls for unified approach to fund next surface transportation authorization

By Jeff Berman · November 4, 2011

Keeping surface transportation funding at its current levels through a series of continuing resolutions is not the way to move forward in an efficient manner, when it comes to preserving and building United States infrastructure.

That was the message delivered by Representative John Mica (R-Fla.), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee at this week’s RailTrends conference presented by Progressive Railroading magazine and independent railroad analyst Tony Hatch.

“These extensions are no way to run the country and are costing us millions of dollars,” said Mica.

Surface transportation funding was extended for the eighth time since SAFETEA-LU expired in September 2009 at the end of September 2011 through the end of March 2012.

Funding surface transportation at current levels of the six-year, $285 billion expired authorization is needed at a minimum, he said, but Mica said he is hopeful that more money can be allocated on a cost of living or incremental basis for a new six-year authorization. In July, Mica introduced a six-year bill that would authorize $230 billion in spending from the Highway Trust Fund between 2012-2017, which the bill’s authors said is equal to the revenue deposited into the HTF that that six-year period. Since that time, the dollar amount has increased to current funding levels.

A long-term bill, he said, is vital, as Congress cannot make long-term commitments with the ongoing extensions and short-term continuing resolutions.

“The reason we don’t have a six-year bill right now is that President Obama sent the message to me and [former House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman] James Oberstar that he was committed to a shorter bill. We need a long-term bill, and I am going to do everything possible to make that happen. We are committed to finding the needed funding.”

Mica noted that Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) dropped a two-year, $109 billion bill earlier this year, which is below current funding levels. But rather than haggle over how to find the necessary funding, Mica said he is proposing to Boxer that they work in a partnership to find the needed money together and move forward from there.

With the surface transportation extension expiring on March 31, 2012, Mica is also eyeing that date as a de-facto deadline to have a new bill signed into law, explaining that the country cannot wait any longer.

“If you want to put people to work in this country, do a long-term transportation bill that has adequate funding,” he said. “My plan is simple: we take the programs we have now and make them work better. I am a fan of infrastructure banking and creative financing, and…43 states have existing infrastructure banks but many don’t have money. There are a whole host of problems with a national infrastructure bank, with many projects taking at least a year to get going.”

A funding option endorsed by Mica is TIFIA, the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program to help communities leverage transportation resources through federal credit assistance.

Financing and leveraging existing options and working more quickly is a major component of getting transportation infrastructure projects moving more efficiently, with the other component being the process, according to Mica.

“The term ‘shovel-ready’ is a national joke, considering that it takes eight-to-ten years for a federal project to get done and six-to-eight years just to get the approval to get through the red tape and paperwork,” said Mica. “We need to address the process for speeding this up for all modes. That process has to stop…and can be improved.”

On a related note, Senate Republicans yesterday voted by a 51-49 margin to block a key piece of President Obama’s recently-released American Jobs Act, which allocated $60 billion for road and infrastructure projects, with $50 billion of that tally to go towards an Infrastructure Bank.


About the Author

Jeff Berman
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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