Talking Asphalt: We need to fund now – September 2011

Talking Asphalt: We need to fund now - September 2011This month I’m going to try something outside my comfort zone and field of expertise. Normally this column is about some facet of improving asphalt pavement performance. But this column is about raising awareness to problems with funding. Our roads and bridges are wearing out and I don’t see a workable plan in place to deal with the shortfall.

I’ve always operated under the philosophy that one should not complain about something without offering some input to a solution. But this time I don’t have the answer; I just know that we have a problem.

To help you understand, and hopefully share, my concern, here are some headlines from material I have seen this year; see if you agree that we need to do something now.

  • House budget committee aims at cutting transportation spending
  • Commission plans to make Missouri DOT smaller
  • The state of the union?s roads: an investigative report ?Our interstates are battered, our bridges are weakened, and funds are vanishing.? 
  • Can taxing trucks by the mile help save transportation? 
  • NJ may experiment with privatizing some highway maintenance operations
  • Georgia (I-75) toll lanes ready to go to bid
  • Are public-private partnerships the savior for transportation funding?
  • Fuel taxes unsustainable.

There were several more pieces of a similar nature that could be listed, but from that group, it’s easy to conclude that funding problems are widespread and that the old system won?t work any longer.

With the current highway bill, SAFETEA-LU, expiring September 30th, state DOTs are facing uncertain times. Kentucky’s Transportation Secretary, Mike Hancock, recently said, “We urgently need for Congress to pass a reauthorization bill—States need certainty. Effective planning is impossible otherwise.” Hancock is correct; without knowing what funds will be available, planning becomes more like compiling a “wish-list.”

It takes time to plan and design major projects. Along the same lines of thought, contractors need to know there is a reasonable amount of work available before investing in new plants and paving equipment. We need a commitment that funding will be available.

I believe it is time for all of us to let our leaders know that maintaining our highway system should be made a high priority. The highway industry tends to be politically active and it is important that our elected officials hear from us. I feel better about my tax dollars being used for improving and maintaining our highways, rather than for many of ways the money is being spent now. We cannot continue to postpone addressing our pavements needs. That approach is just going to cost us more, in the long run.

Like I admitted to begin this rant, I don’t have the answers. But it is absolutely critical that we begin developing a comprehensive, systematic approach to getting our roads back in good shape and that requires a major funding commitment. If you have positive ideas, let our officials know.

Next month, I plan to be back on topic with comments on construction details which affect pavement performance.