While the entire country has been dealing with all things COVID-19, states have faced some tough financial times for operating and maintaining transportation networks because of reduced revenues. This has forced delays in much-needed transportation projects.
Kentucky, for instance, cancelled in May and June the lettings they were planning on moving forward with for those months. “That was about $83 million of projects that they didn’t move forward with … and they’ve also suspended work on about 100 different projects totaling $150 million across the state,” according to Jim Tymon, Executive Director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). “In Maine, they’re looking at a reduction of about $128 million in state revenues over the next 18 months.“
Tymon recently spoke to the Americans for Transportation Mobility (ATM) Coalition for its newest podcast that provides an overarching perspective on why transportation infrastructure investment cannot wait. Staggering job losses and an economic downturn are intertwined with the issue of overburdened and aging roads, bridges and public transit that need federal financing and funding through new reauthorization.
AASHTO is the trade association that represents state departments of transportation, and has been advocating for a backstop to help DOTs that have been impacted by revenue losses. Most states rely on gas taxes to help fund construction projects.
Tymon says an initial “huge drop in vehicle miles travelled,” at around 60 percent, began in March when much of the nation was in a stay-at-home mode and facing a new public-health crisis.
America and its leaders sit at an unprecedented intersection as the demand for a bipartisan infrastructure-investment bill grows. The need to modernize infrastructure, a legislative and federal requirement to fund surface transportation, the pandemic, and a call to secure America’s economic footing have produced a cacophony of factors.
Though Americans are traveling more now, AASHTO has asked Congress to provide relief directly to state DOTs and is also pushing for a bipartisan and long-term surface transportation reauthorization bill. Tymon, who once served as the staff director of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and guided several infrastructure-investment bills, believes infrastructure projects and interstate commerce will help keep America strong and safe in a global arena.
“I think that this still is a bipartisan issue. Transportation is an area that Democrats and Republicans in both the House and the Senate can rally around,” says Tymon. “As we come up to the elections here in November, there’s not a whole lot that senators and congressmen can go back to their districts and talk about [regarding] pieces of legislation that they’ve been able to get done. Outside of what’s been done on COVID relief, there hasn’t been a lot of signature pieces of legislation that either side can go out there and champion. This is a great opportunity for them to show that they can work together to get something done on transportation.”
“America is not without its challenges, but history proves we have met them,” ATM Executive Director Ed Mortimer says. “Today should be no different. Our elected leaders need to stop finding ways to say no and start finding ways to say yes and work on a bipartisan basis to move America forward. A sustainable and substantial infrastructure investment in America’s transportation system is a win for everyone. This includes elected officials, state DOTs, businesses, the public, the jobs sector and, most importantly, our economy.”
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