If federal spending on transportation indeed can be maintained for even three years at $50 billion a year, some continuity in highway construction project bids again is possible.
The federal highway funding bill continues to stutter-step toward enactment by Congress. While contractors and equipment dealers are heartened by the mincing progress, there are no cheers sounding, there’s no one clapping anyone on the shoulder and yelling, “Yeh!”
Instead, the building industry looks askance at the whole process, which includes a three-week extension of funding—three weeks!—so House and Senate leaders can work out the details on a proposed six-year funding bill. Six years sounds good and is said to be pretty much a done deal.
However, the six-year transportation bill is not what it seems. Some of the revenue still has to be identified and even then funding is only guaranteed for the first three years, which sort of makes it a three-year funding bill. Of course, three years seems like eternity compared to recent appropriations history: Short-term funding patches have been passed three times in 2015 and 35 times over the last decade.
On the bright side, if federal spending on transportation indeed can be maintained for even three years at $50 billion a year, some continuity in highway construction project bids again is possible. Contractors will be able to commit to jobs because funding of the projects will be assured for up to three years.
An even brighter side is that the political stalemates of the last several years might be resolved in the next three years. The next two election cycles could produce changes in the White House and Congress that make possible the passage of fully funded, long-term transportation bills. Tax reform, immigration law reform, even transportation funding reform is possible, all of which could have positive impact on the building industry.
The circus that is federal funding of transportation in this country is not entertaining for those whose livelihood depends on long-term, reliable appropriations for highway and other construction projects. It is not amusing for travelers on potholed roads. There is nothing funny about it.