A construction industry group says backers of a new national transportation bill must provide “transformational reforms” to get a highway spending plan through an increasingly conservative Congress.
The Associated General Contractors said they hope to see a surface transportation bill that sets more than $400 billion in spending on roads and bridges over the next six years, calling it an investment in national economic growth.
But the group, which this week issued a muted outlook for the construction industry’s recovery from its steep slide over the past two years, said a highway bill faces major hurdles under a new Republican majority in the House intent on cutting back federal spending.
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“We’ve got to demonstrate some transformational reforms in this program,” said Joseph H. Jarboe, a senior vice president at Clark Construction and member of the AGC board.
“There has got to be more accountability, it’s got to be more national in scope and got to have more focus on freight. We’ve got to show that this investment will deliver to a good return, that we’re providing a better product for the increased investment,” he said.
Officials at the construction contractors group had a meeting scheduled this week with Rep. John L. Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation Committee, and believes Mica will try to move a highway bill through the House this year. The last surface transportation measure expired two years ago and authorization since then has moved only through stopgap, short-term measures that infrastructure advocates say do not meet the long planning and building cycles of major projects.
“Chairman Mica has said he would like to get a bill in before June,” said Stephen Sandherr, CEO of the AGC. “He has been consistently talking about a bill in the mid-$400 billion range. So the challenge is getting there with the revenue to support since the last bill was at $286 billion. To get there you’re going to need some sort of revenue enhancement, whether that is through indexing or increasing the motor fuel tax or some other method. So he’s got a challenge there.”
That challenge includes selling a highway bill to Republicans who took majority control of the House by campaigning on reduced spending, not enhancing federal revenue.
Sandherr said the backers of a bill hope to make the case that infrastructure investment is good for American business.
“We do think these investments are important in allowing for growth,” he said. “These investments in infrastructure are necessary, they are vital to the national economy and we would remind them of the heritage of the Republican Party, with its support for the Interstate highway System.”