So much to do, so little time

By Pete Grass

So much to do, so little time…

Remember that one? It’s not going away. Put it in terms of the challenges that face our national infrastructure and you know what I mean. Let’s look at it for a moment (but not too long — there is too much to do).

As I write this, our industry is working hard to comply with the various requirements of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 — to properly initiate the work needed to get $27.5 billion in FHWA “stimulus” funded projects underway. This figure — while an impressive number at first blush — is just under four percent (4%) of the $700 billion overall federal program. Ask someone what percent of that is being spent on infrastructure construction and you’ll get responses of something like 60 percent. Way off — but that is frequently the perception.

The “so what” comes due when you advance the discussion to the reauthorization — or “authorization” as some prefer to call it, for transportation in 2010. If the perception is that you’ve already been taken care of — good luck! I’m hopeful that this will not be the case.

Our nation’s infrastructure has a serious backlog of maintenance, repair and needed improvement — nearing $500 billion at last check. If we could prioritize the most importance piece of our infrastructure, we’d make some headway. For example, our National Highway System is only about four percent or some 160,000 miles of the nation’s highway system, but carries some 75 percent of all heavy truck traffic, 90 percent of all tourism vehicles and some 40 percent of ALL traffic. That is a strategic asset by any measure.

Focus federal funding on the NHS and you’ll get results — if adequately resourced. Improvement in level of service and overall condition would truly benefit us all and be an investment in our future as well.

How is it paid for? We’ve got more work to do here. With the Highway Trust Fund collecting $0.184 per gallon of gasoline and $0.244 per gallon of diesel in the form of fuel taxes, the debate has already shifted towards a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax as a replacement. It aligns the national strategy of increasing the fuel mileage rate of new vehicles sold in the US while ensuring there is sufficient funding to pay for the infrastructure they travel. Early studies have shown the technology is readily available and reliable. We can put one in each vehicle for less than $300 per installation. Surely we can develop a transition plan — and honestly — we’ll have to. It will “soon” be an imperative.

But in the interim — what’s the solution? A well funded federal program is a must — both for near term and strategic reasons that I think most of us grasp. In the short term, some adjustments are needed for our fuel tax rates perhaps — but what are those rates and will they have the desired bridging effects? Enter the debate and let’s find the best solution — but let’s not take too long. There is so much to do and so little time…