News & Opinions
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Public Works Reader Survey: Operations & Maintenance and Capital Budgets
Stephanie Johnston and Victoria K. Sicaras / PUBLIC WORKS / January 29, 2013
Last year, the pace of economic recovery depended on real estate and construction activity. That’s still true, but this year there’s a twist: Whether or not we drive off the fiscal cliff, appropriations to the 11 federal agencies that support public works will be cut to reduce the national deficit by at least $1.2 trillion.
The Highway Trust Fund is off the chopping block thanks to Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), the two-year surface transportation bill enacted in July 2012. Contractors also still have plenty of excess capacity. But greater demand for asphalt (already 10 times more expensive than it was 15 years ago) and concrete as the global economy gradually improves prompts the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) to predict a 3% increase in project costs.
Also thanks to MAP-21, Safe Routes to School applicants must compete with Recreational Trails and Transportation Enhancement programs — now all lumped together as Federal Highway Administration Transportation Alternatives — after coming up with a 20% match. But, says ARTBA Senior Vice President of Government Relations Dave Bauer, former discretionary programs “would’ve been entirely eliminated if some members of Congress had had their way.” (We’ll keep you posted on the fate of the National Center for Safe Routes to School, which although officially funded only through this month is still planning its fourth annual conference in August.)
Federal funding drives less than half — 44% — of road and bridge construction. The rest comes from states (32%) and cities and counties (24%), which — funny thing — also provide water and sewer service. Brace yourself for a slew of regulatory actions as the Obama administration tries to do as much as possible before the 2016 presidential election.
Within a few months U.S. EPA’s Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water could propose rules for perchlorate and carcinogenic VOCs as well as total coliform revisions that’ll greatly impact how you should respond to various triggers. Having ensured that meters, pipe fittings, and the like are (virtually) lead-free come 2014, the agency’s now looking at the Long-Term Lead and Copper rule’s lead service line and sampling procedures. The Third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR3) requires four consecutive quarters of monitoring between now and 2015.
And last — though far from least — this year and the next are crucial for preparing for EPA’s long-promised new stormwater rule in late 2014 (see “Your future with EPA’s new stormwater regulation” on page 41 and “Effluent vs. runoff: separate and definitely not equal” on page 45 for the first in a yearlong series on what the agency’s planning and how to prepare).
Even though our esteemed politicians probably will find a way to keep from plunging us back into recession, we anticipate a debt-reduction plan that will cut deeply into state and local aid.