President Bush’s signing of the reauthorization of TEA 21, called SAFETEA-LU, brought a nearly
audible sigh of relief from the transit industry.
As you know, it’s been a long time coming, with a dozen deadline extensions as Congress tried to cobble together a six-year plan acceptable to both the House and Senate as well as the White House.
The transit industry should congratulate itself for its role in the reauthorization. We began a concerted effort well before the original deadline of September 2003, which means that we’ve been working hard on this landmark legislation for several years.
Anyone who’s attended APTA’s annual Legislative Conference even once since 2002 knows how strongly the industry has targeted the reauthorization. A lot of time and energy was expended as members of transit systems and their supplier partners hiked to Capitol Hill to meet with their legislators and staff. The coordinated effort organized by APTA put a premium on face-to-face meetings, the most effective way to deliver a message. But the industry also used phone calls, e-mail, faxes and old-fashioned letters to put their lawmakers on notice that the transit industry means business, both figuratively and literally.
The news is good
And the effort was worth the results. The $286.4 billion legislation includes $52.6 billion in guaranteed federal funding for transit through Fiscal Year 2009. This represents a significant increase in transit investment and will help to accomplish many objectives, including reducing traffic congestion, improving air quality, creating thousands of new jobs and providing the public with mobility options.
SAFETEA-LU will also provide a badly needed boost to the many suppliers of products and services to the transit industry. Kim Green, chair of APTA’s Business Member Board of Governors and president of GFI-Genfare, characterized the importance of the legislation to suppliers in the following manner:
“It lays the foundation for strong growth for business members in the years to come. However, many of our business members are suffering from several years of general business slowdown. It is critical that our public agency partners begin to quickly take advantage of the new funding provided in SAFETEA-LU and start or continue the projects that have been delayed.”
In addition to providing guaranteed funding, the legislation also bolstered Buy America provisions, helping to protect the interests of U.S. suppliers as well as foreign companies that are willing to meet the minimum requirements of assembly and domestic content. Now the focus is on the regulatory process at the Federal Transit Administration. Supporters of the provisions hope to have a final result in the first quarter of 2006.
Now the bad news
The reauthorization missed its mark so badly in regard to the deadline that it’s already time to build momentum for the next reauthorization. This is not the time to rest on our laurels. Yes, many transit projects can now go forward with the security of guaranteed federal funding, but many of them won’t be complete until after SAFETEA-LU expires in four short years.
It’s important that we keep the pressure on. Celebration of the new legislation is fine, but let’s glue our eyes to the horizon. The transit industry needs to be constantly revising and improving its long-term strategies, which should include a winning game plan for the next reauthorization. We cannot fail in this regard. Too much is at stake, both now and four years from now.
Again, congratulations on the landmark legislation. Your contributions cannot be underestimated.