Amtrak chief joins highway funding debate

Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman pushed Congress on Wednesday to stop dodging an increase in transportation funding he said was obviously necessary.

In a statement released after a Senate committee held a hearing on reauthorizing the federal transportation bill that is scheduled to expire in September, Boardman said lawmakers has been appropriating just enough transportation funding to get by in recent years. 

"Congress is facing a real challenge on transportation policy and the bankruptcy of the Highway Trust Fund is just the tip of the iceberg," the Amtrak chief said in a statement. "It is a challenge that must be met and one we as a nation can no longer dodge or neglect. We are not making the transportation investments needed for economic growth and network improvement - we're just barely keeping the existing system going."

The current transportation bill that was passed in 2012 included only enough funding to cover two years of road and transit projects. Transportation bills have historically been funded by the 18.4 cents per gallon gas tax, but advocates told lawmakers Wednesday that it was no longer bringing in enough money because it has not been increased since 1993. 

The 2012 bill authorized the continued collection of the federal gas tax, which transportation advocates worried was in doubt in the months before it passed. But the bill maintained the 1993 status quo, which resulted in an approximately $20 billion a year gap between infrastructure spending and the $34 billion per year that the gas tax normally brings in.

Boardman said Wednesday afternoon that the transportation funding shortfall was an untenable situation now.

"We need a balanced Transportation Trust Fund that can provide investment in any surface mode-- including Highway, Transit, and Rail (both passenger and freight)," Boardman said. "Such a program would strengthen the whole network, and recognize and support the unique roles each mode plays in supporting interstate commerce and national connectivity. Simply putting the Highway Trust Fund on life support gets us nowhere."

Boardman has pushed Congress to increase transportation funding before.

Amtrak traditionally receives about $1 billion per year in funding from Congress, but the money is usually drawn from other places than the Highway Trust Fund.

About 20 percent of the revenue that currently collected by the gas tax is used for public transit projects.