The current surface transportation legislation, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, expired in 2009. Congress has extended the act seven times, but that latest extension expires at the end of this month. The 18.4-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax that provides the revenue to fund federal highway and transit programs expires on the same day.
The president warned that a failure to extended the bill by the deadline will result in around 4,000 workers being furloughed without pay immediately, and a long delay would result in the loss of around 1 million jobs.
"And that's just not acceptable. That's inexcusable," Obama said. "It's inexcusable to put more jobs at risk in an industry that's already been one of the hardest hit over the last decade. It's inexcusable to cut off necessary investments at a time when so many of our highways are choked with congestion, when so many of our bridges are in need of repair, when so many commuters depend on reliable public transit, and when travel and shipping delays cost businesses billions of dollars every single year."
The short timeframes before the current authorization bills expire have the administration pushing multi-month extensions rather than full, multi-year bills.
The American Trucking Associations, the American Association of State Highway Transportation Official and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association all spoke in support of President Obama.
"President Obama is right to tell Congress to focus on the long overdue highway bill," said ATA Senior Vice President for Legislative Affairs Mary Phillips. "We saw the havoc that a temporary shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration had on that sector, and the country cannot afford the job losses and lapse in safety programs that would result from the highway bill expiring."
The FAA shutdown furloughed around 4,000 workers and lost the federal government $400 million in revenue.
Phillips said ATA joined the president in calling for quick passage of another extension, but added that more extensions are no replacement for a long-term federal highway authorization. She said that Congress must craft legislation that focuses on improving the safety and efficiency of our highway system.
ATA also cautioned the administration about using private sector financing for public infrastructure, citing a report by the Department of Transportation Inspector General, which outlined the pitfalls of such arrangements.
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials issued a statement in agreement with ATA.
Last week, AASHTO President Susan Martinovich, director of the Nevada Department of Transportation, said during a news conference in Louisville, Ky., that more than 500,000 jobs and countless state and local projects to modernize and improve transportation across the U.S. are in jeopardy if Congress does not act quickly.
OOIDA, which often finds itself at odds with ATA, also supported Obama. Like ATA, it specifically cautioned against using public-private partnerships as a way to solve funding challenges. These partnerships, the association said, will come with come with significant tax benefits on the backs of the public.
You can read the president's remarks on the White House website.