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Federal Transportation Bill: What's the Holdup, Washington?

June 4, 2012 - 6:00pm

Floridas construction industry is watching intently as the final agreement on the federal transportation bill is being reached.

While Congress has set another self-imposed deadline, the debate surrounding this fiscally important legislation continues to stall. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking as the June 30 funding deadline looms for much-needed infrastructure construction projects and a special surface transportation amendment that is both pro-growth and pro-environment.

The bipartisan amendment stands to increase sensible regulatory measures on fly ash, an end product of coal combustion, and should be included in the final federal transportation bill. It would also encourage fly ash recycling, which has proven beneficial to the environment and the economy as a cost-effective product to build roads, tunnels and bridges. However, if the talks about the federal transportation bill fail, the cost and environmental benefits of this amendment go down with it.

The cost savings of recycled fly ash products is a major advantage for taxpayers and construction firms alike. Fly ash materials keep repair and maintenance costs low as the product is stronger and last longer than traditional road-building materials. According to a report from the American Roads and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), more than 55 million tons of fly ash were recycled for construction purposes across the nation.

ARTBAs report found Florida uses fly ash products for most of its concrete-based construction, and the estimated cost savings was nearly $160 million over a period of five years for the state. Approximately 10 percent of highway spending in Florida is on concrete products each year -- imagine the detrimental economic effects if this valuable commodity is restricted. The fly ash amendment protects this important resource and ensures its presence for the future.

In addition to its economic vitality, the continued use and production of fly ash secures more than a quarter million jobs. Many government and private organizations, ranging from the Environmental Council of States, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Department of Transportation support the safe use of fly ash.

For these many reasons, federal lawmakers have proposed this amendment to allow for greater use of fly ash in transportation projects and to provide greater EPA oversight on each states fly ash regulations. We need transportation construction funding and we need road building products. So I have to ask, what is the holdup, Washington?

Floridians, in fact all Americans, deserve a well-funded federal transportation program. The preservation of a viable, environmentally sustainable and cost-effective road-building resource is just an added benefit. Sens. Bill Nelson, Marco Rubio, and all the members of Floridas congressional delegation should support the inclusion of the bipartisan fly ash amendment as they move the federal transportation bill forward. Putting the brakes on it now would create long-term troubles for the nations transportation infrastructure.

Rick Watson is the legislative counsel for Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida, Inc.

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