Short-Term Fix for Highway Trust Fund

We came perilously close – again – to letting the Highway Trust Fund run out of money, and we must stop governing by crisis

By Cary Hegreberg

Congratulations and thank you to Montana’s Congressional delegation for passing a short-term fix for the Federal Highway Trust Fund.  Had this not happened, the Montana Department of Transportation would have been forced to delay highway construction projects until federal funding was certain. Dozens of Montana businesses, hundreds of construction workers and thousands of Montana motorists would have been impacted had Congress not acted in the nick of time.

Like patching potholes in the road, this short-term funding patch for the federal highway program does not solve the underlying problem.  Eventually the road needs to be re-engineered and reconstructed, just like the Highway Trust Fund is broken and needs to be rebuilt.

Neither state nor federal fuel taxes – assessed on each gallon – have increased since 1993.  More fuel-efficient (and even electric) vehicles have led to fewer gallons being taxed, while at the same time, virtually all costs associated with building highways have escalated dramatically.  Think of what a new car or pickup cost in 1993 and imagine what a fleet of construction equipment cost today versus 1993 – not to mention diesel fuel, asphalt, labor and even the cost of acquiring right of way from private landowners.

Montana is a huge rural state with vast distances between communities.  Transportation of our agricultural, mineral, forest products and manufactured goods is absolutely critical to stay competitive in global markets.  Most tourists who visit Montana travel here by highway, and, like our own residents, they expect safe and well-maintained roads, bridges and rest areas.

The country needs a long-term solution to funding our highway system.  We came perilously close – again – to letting the Highway Trust Fund run out of money, and we must stop governing by crisis.  Only a long-term highway bill will let states, counties, municipalities, contractors and other highway-dependent business owners have the certainty they need to plan ahead so the economy can prosper.

Granted, contractors have a vested interest in maintaining a well-funded, predictable highway construction program. But so do their employees, their subcontractors, and their suppliers of equipment, materials, fuel, and services.  Economists estimate that every $1 million spent on highway construction creates 28 jobs rippling through the economy, all the way from the engineers who design projects to the employees in restaurants where construction workers eat.

Congress needs to understand the importance of a long-term solution for funding our highway system, and quit relying on emergency patches that make the road rougher and less safe every time.  Call Sens. Jon Tester and John Walsh and Congressman Steve Daines with a strong message that it’s time to quit kicking the can down the road – before the can falls into a deep pothole.  Our economy, our communities and our families depend on safe efficient highways.

Cary Hegreberg is executive director of the Montana Contractors’ Association, a chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America.