Ag Policy Blog

Life is a Highway Full of Bumps and Detours

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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As I drove last week through several states following up on my Route 66 escapades it dawned on me that there are some bad roads in rural America.

Actually, it dawned on me that there were worse roads out there than ones I had already deemed bad.

It's amazing that the on-ramp to an interstate toll road can test the abilities of an all-wheel drive vehicle.

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Rural infrastruture seems to be an even bigger challenge to fix, even in the midst of an energy boom. In Oklahoma, for example, the state has a moratorium on taxing horizontal drilling (fracking) in the state. Yet, fracking sites are most frequently set up along two-lane highways that weren't built to handle the flow of constant heavy truck traffic. Thus, the country highways are beat to heck in some areas while more fracking and waste-disposal wells are being drilled all the time.

Route 66, for all its tourism and historic lore, is a battered, forgotten road in many areas in every state I have toured thus far. There doesn't seem to be a quick remedy for that anytime soon. Members of Congress are a bit more concerned about simply making the Highway Trust Fund cash flow through the current election cycle rather than look at any kind of road or infrastructure program that would create a lasting fix to protect some of the country's roads from crumbling further.

The U.S. Senate could vote on a bill that would provide roughly $11 billion to keep the trust fund going until next May. The House passed a similar bill last week and it has the support of the Obama administration. Without a fix, the trust fund could become insolvent in August. The debate could get bogged down again in the Senate, however. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah wants to push a provision that would eliminate the Davis-Bacon Act --- the old prevailing wage law. It's a proposal that would lead to immediate objection from Democrats. Lee has a bill that would "devolve" federal transportation spending by reducing the 18.3 cents per-gallon gas tax to 3.7 cents a gallon over several years and turn over responsibility for a significant number of highways and bridges to the states. The states would then decide how to build out their own highway systems.

Meanwhile, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials highlights that a group of 62 organizations last week sent a letter to Congress advocating for a long-term fix for the trust fund. The American Farm Bureau Federation was among the business groups that signed onto the letter.

Follow me on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN.

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