Only in Congress can a six-year program of transportation projects that is only funded for three years be considered a legislative accomplishment.
But it is, compared with almost a decade of the Congress being unable to agree on a highway bill at all. Instead, we’ve had years of short-term funding measures.
The House approved the bill on 363-64 vote. The provisions must still be reconciled with a similar Senate version approved earlier, but the two bills are close enough that it’s pretty clear the president will get something he can sign.
After 35 tries, though, the bill is still short of funding for the full six years of projects in it.
So while good news, it’s not any great legislative accomplishment for the real world.
What it does preserve is existing levels of investment in roads, bridges and transit. That’s important as far as it goes.
“Louisiana was just named the fourth-best business climate in the nation — but that means little if we don’t have adequate surface transportation to support new jobs,” noted U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette. “The fact is neither Louisiana nor the United States can have a growing 21st century economy with an aging infrastructure.”
The bill has specific provisions sought by U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, for funding of projects along major economic corridors. Obviously, that might one day help relieve the crunch of traffic congestion at the conjunction of two interstate highways in the Baton Rouge area.
That there is a bill is perhaps good news, but common sense indicates that America, as well as Louisiana, needs to invest more in infrastructure. Roads and bridges are getting older all the time; replacement costs rise with time.
The American Society of Civil Engineers and other experts have reported at great length about the billions of dollars that are needed nationwide to repair roads, rebuild deficient bridges and overpasses and subway tunnels. It’s a huge undertaking to catch up with the needs.
One Louisiana need illustrates the shortcomings of the current bill: A project such as a new Mississippi River bridge can take a decade or more to plan and build. There’s an obvious mismatch between the length of time and level of funding for that project and the terms of the new bill.
All that said, we can be pleased in Louisiana that another short-term measure was avoided, but the long-term need for investment in our country’s transportation backbones is not yet fully achieved.