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Keep Highways at Federal Level

Well, here they go again. Once again the idea of turning over the nation’s surface-transportation program to the states has reared its ugly head.

According to the National Stone, Sand, and Gravel Association, 14 senators introduced a bill titled the “State Transportation Flexibility Act” that would allow state transportation departments to opt out of federal-aid highway and mass-transit programs. States that opted out would be able to manage and spend the federal gas-tax revenue collected within their borders on transportation projects without federal mandates or restrictions.

Most of the 14 senators are from “donor states.” These are states that contribute more to the Highway Fund then they get back, which has been a point of contention for a number of years.

Along with chief sponsor Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) are co-sponsors Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.); Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.); John Cornyn (R-Texas); Jim DeMint (R-S.C.); Orrin Hatch (R-Utah); Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.); Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.); Mike Lee (R-Utah); John McCain (R-Ariz.); Rand Paul (R-Ky.); Rob Portman (R-Ohio); and David Vitter (R-La.). Last April, a similar measure, HR 1585, was introduced in the House of Representatives with 24 sponsors.

Supporters claim that federal highway spending is full of waste and has been mismanaged, with non-essential public works projects encouraged by the federal government and used as earmarks by legislators seeking to curry favor at home.

Critics say that allowing states to opt out of the federal highway program could be the beginning of the end for our highway system – once the envy of the world – with roads in good condition in some places, patched in others, and completely falling apart more places than not.

The bill is a bad idea.

President Eisenhower, in the 1950s, envisioned the United States having the finest highway system in the world, with a network of well-maintained pavement stretching from coast to coast. There were very important national security and civil defense reasons for a robust national network of roads, not to mention the importance to interstate commerce.

There are some programs that are more equitable when pushed down to the state level, but the national highway system isn’t one of them.

Mark S. Kuhar, editor
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Member: Construction Writers Association