Highway Funding, a Never-Ending Battle on Capitol Hill, is Critical to RV and Camping Travel

As the U.S. Congress and the administration grapple with reducing federal spending to get the federal deficit under control, federal highway and transportation programs are among the federal programs under close scrutiny by Congress.

If there’s one thing the RV park and campground industry could use from the federal government, it’s a federal highway program that assures that highways, bridges and tunnels are in good condition, that traffic congestion is reduced, and that travelers can have a safe, relaxing and easy trip along the nation’s highways.

As the U.S. Congress and the administration grapple with reducing federal spending to get the federal deficit under control, federal highway and transportation programs are among the federal programs under close scrutiny by Congress.

Funding for highways, transportation and the infrastructure necessary to support both is typically handled in a six-year cycle. Federal funding is used both on U.S. as well as state highway and transportation projects. In recent years, the six-year programs have been funded at about $360 billion over the six-year period. The programs were scheduled to be renewed in 2010 but the battle over the amount of funding and the scope of the programs is still under debate.

Earmarks, that dirty word that describes how members of Congress add self-serving funding for pet projects in their home districts, is under attack and while both Democrats and Republicans are talking a good public game on stopping earmarks altogether, most observers in Washington are skeptical that any substantial changes in the earmarking process will actually occur.

Members will somehow figure out how to ‘bring home the bacon” for local projects that their constituents really want – whether it’s a new parking lot at a hospital, a new bridge over the river, or a walking trail to the nearest train station.

A group of national associations with strong interests in tourism, travel and highways has been meeting in Washington for some months now, trying to develop a strategy to assure that the needs of these industries are not forgotten in the development of the next highway bill. Under the name Tourism Highway Group, this national group has been monitoring and lobbying with Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., who chairs the House Transportation Committee, and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who chairs the Senate committee.

Both chairmen have indicated that they plan to move legislation in both houses of Congress by the end of May. The Tourism Highway Group is greatly concerned that those tourism and recreation-related programs typically funded through the Highway Program are in grave danger of being victims of the budget axe. Among these programs that could be severely cut or even eliminated are the Scenic Byways Program that is very popular with RVers in addition to welcome center funding support, highway information systems funding, congestion-relieving measures, the recreation trails program and other similar programs that are important to tourists, vacationers, and recreation enthusiasts.

Try to imagine RV travel, even for short distances, on pot-hole marked roadways, on inadequate roads packed with commuters and others trying to leave the city on a Friday afternoon or holiday weekend, on roads through public lands that are two lanes wide and in bad repair. Visualize, if you can, welcome centers that are closed or reduced to just restrooms and a place to walk the dog. Then, hypothetically, in your mind, eliminate alternative roads of any quality so that RVers are left with only interstate highways with their heavy truck traffic at all hours of the day and night.

Doesn’t paint a pretty picture for enjoyable RV travel, does it?

With the varying political winds and the apparent desire of American’s to reduce the size of government and federal spending, the programs that are of great value and importance to RVers and recreationists are at great risk at this time.

The RV and park industry needs quality roads, bridges and tunnels, free flowing traffic, warm welcoming rest areas and information centers, reliable information signage, safe bridges and tunnels, and easy access to the scenic, cultural, historic and recreational places that make America great.

Park owners are urged to contact their federal legislators and let them know how important a well-funded highway program is for America and for your business. It’s almost a guarantee that if the park industry and its allies in related fields sit on their hands on this issue, the highway bill will be reduced to a bare minimum and those programs that are important to RV enthusiasts may well disappear.

If the park industry doesn’t show up on this issue, there’s likely to be great regret that it did not go to bat for its interests down the road, so to speak.

David Gorin, former ARVC CEO, is president of David Gorin & Associates, providing management consulting services to the outdoor hospitality industry. He’s also a partner in King & Gorin, specializing in Washington representation for associations and businesses in travel, tourism, transportation, recreation and public lands.