Infrastructure Report to Spark Lobbying Free-for-All

Posted January 14, 2008 at 6:37pm

A much-anticipated report recommending ways that Congress can improve the nation’s gridlocked roads will be released today, sparking a widespread lobbying effort that includes big business, trucking companies, environmentalists and local governments.

At issue is how big of a role the federal government should play and whether toll roads and increased gasoline taxes should pay for highway and transit system improvements.

While each faction agrees it wants better roads and transit systems, there is little if any agreement on how to raise the money needed to pay for improvements.

As Congress cruises toward a reauthorization of the highway bill next year, you can bet all sides of the debate will be driving home their lobbying messages.

“Every group in town that is involved in transportation has been waiting with bated breath for this report,” said Janet Kavinoky, who is part of the Americans for Transportation Mobility Coalition, which is backed by businesses and trade associations. “This lays out the battlefield for the next two years. You see differences of opinion across a lot of different industries.”

This week, a coalition of business groups is sending a letter to Capitol Hill, and on Thursday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold a hearing to examine the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission report’s recommendations.

“This is a massive reauthorization bill, just a huge bill,” said Jim Berard, communications director for the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “There is a very broad constituency for this bill, everyone from governors and state departments of transportation, to the contractors, construction trades, the trucking companies, the Teamsters union, the safety people, the environmental people, the people who make buses.”

Former Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.), a Cassidy & Associates lobbyist who served on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for 12 years, sees transportation projects as a natural “economic stimulus,” a topical subject now that Congress is discussing ways to give the sagging economy a boost.

But, he said, the funding should come from a mixture of federal appropriations and bonds. “We need to find creative ways to fund these projects,” he said. “The day when the federal government and its appropriation process paid for these much-needed projects are over. There are just too many needs.”

Dave Bauer, senior vice president of government affairs for the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, said his group wants to see a greater role for the federal government. “We have proposed increasing investment in the highway and transit program,” including gas taxes, other user fees and tollways to pay the bill, Bauer said.

Big-business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers have taken up the infrastructure issue because the nation’s roadways are crucial to the economy.

“Our competitors in China, Indian and the European Union have been taking their transportation infrastructure as a competitiveness issue,” said Rosario Palmieri, vice president of infrastructure legal and regulatory policy at NAM. But in the United States, he said, “the current investment in surface transportation is not high enough … even to take care of maintenance of the current system. If we really want to grow and increase capacity, we’re going to have to go even farther.”

NAM wants a mix of funding to come from increased gas taxes, private investment, customs duties and tolls. “We don’t want to assume that any single option is going to give us the type of investment we need,” Palmieri said. “The federal government is not going to solve the problem, the state government isn’t going to solve the program, and private investment or tolling isn’t going to solve all the problems.”