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Former State Highway Chief: Transportation Policy Needs Funding Plans

A former president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials said recently that state transportation departments are in dire straits and called on the Obama administration to include financing proposals in any federal transportation policy strategy it creates. Pete K. Rahn, president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in 2007 and 2008, said states don’t have enough money to keep highways in adequate repair, according to a report in The Journal of Commerce

Rahn, who is now senior vice president of HTNB, a Kansas City-based engineering firm, said states are raiding transportation funds to support other state services and some can barely pull together the 20 percent in state matching funds to qualify for federal highway funds. The lack of a transportation spending bill is causing uncertainty among states, Rahn said. The current law guiding transportation spending will expire on Dec. 31. Congress will have to extend the law before it adjourns, but Rahn expressed doubts that lawmakers will pass a new spending bill.

The Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC), of which PCA is a member, has launched a grass-roots campaign to raise awareness of the need for quick enactment of a robust surface transportation bill. Rahn said Congress will have to either pass a new spending bill or extend the law before it adjourns. “Clearly this Congress is going to have to deal with the issue of either extension or passage. Until Congress acts early it’s going to create a lot of uncertainty in the states.” Rahn said the policy not only needs to be stated, but there has to be clear indication of how it will be funded. “They’ve enunciated a policy,” he said. “You can state anything you want to do, but if you’re not going to talk about how you’re going to pay for it, it’s not a good plan.”

Simply extending the law in December will throw off the normal contract-letting cycle in which contractors win bids in November and December to prepare for the start of construction in the spring. Rahn said the state transportation system is not keeping up with the growth in population and the growth of traffic is stifling the existing infrastructure. “Since completion of the interstate system in 1984, we’ve added 6 percent capacity, but we’ve seen a near doubling of the volume of traffic,” Rahn said. “We need to be multimodal, but even if we maximize our approach to multimodal movement of people and goods, we’re still going to need more highways.”

Transportation Reauthorization: Tell Congress to Act

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