As I write this column, Congress is projecting a cut of $8.6 billion on the transportation budget for 2003.
Such a deep cut would have serious economic effects just when our country is struggling to emerge from a recession. And as pointed out by William D. Fay, president of the American Highway Users Alliance, it could also be a devastating blow to our national transportation system.
"A 27 percent cut in one year in the nation's largest infrastructure program is too much," Fay warned Congress on Feb. 11.
Putting It In Perspective
Speaking at a hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Fay put the magnitude of the cut in perspective with some hard numbers.
Oklahoma, for instance, would lose $118 million out of its $428 million in 2002 receipts. Nevada would lose more than $53 million of the $200 million it received in transportation funding.
The Story Behind the Numbers
What do these numbers mean?
First and foremost, the arteries of our nation's economic wellbeing -- our highways -- would fall even further into disrepair, creating safety hazards and worsening traffic problems.
And just as importantly, the cut is likely to result in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of lost jobs.
According to Fay, "A 27 percent reduction in highway funds will delay the important benefits of roadway improvements -- the safety benefits of reducing crashes, injuries and fatalities; the air quality, time-saving, and fuel-saving benefits of relieving traffic congestion; and the economic and productivity benefits of speedier deliveries.":
Citing a landmark study commissioned by the Highway Users in 1999, Fay explained that it would take only small improvements in traffic flow at the nation's 167 worst bottlenecks to result in 287,000 fewer crashes over 20 years. This would include 1,150 fewer deaths and 141,000 fewer injuries.
Traffic flow improvements would also result in improved air quality; would slash fuel consumption by nearly 20 billion gallons; and would reduce commuters' travel time by an average of 19 minutes per trip, according to Fay.
Highway Funding Restoration Act
Fay said the Highway Users Alliance -- representing motorists, truckers, and a broad cross-section of businesses that depend on safe and uncongested highways -- strongly supports the Highway Funding Restoration Act. The Act would restore $4.4 billion to FY 2003 transportation funding.
Fay also encouraged Congress to enact the proposal to funnel gas tax receipts from the sale of ethanol into the Highway Trust Fund; to close the loopholes that have been used by some individuals to evade fuel taxes; and to invest in the nation's transportation infrastructure.
"All of that money in the Highway Trust Fund has been paid by motorists," Fay said. "All of it was intended to be used for road and bridge improvements. It ought to be used for its intended purpose."
A Smart Investment
We need an adequately-funded federal highway program to improve safety, reduce traffic congestion and gridlock, enhance air quality, and keep our manufacturers and producers -- including businesses like yours -- competitive in the marketplace.