DOT chief touts Atlanta Beltline project

Anne Wernikoff

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx touted a proposed multi-use transportation project in Atlanta known as the Beltline after touring part of the planned development Wednesday.

Foxx was visiting Atlanta on the third day of his bus tour to push Congress to approve new road and transit projects this year.

He said the Georgia capital's Beltline, which is a mixture of public transit such as streetcars and bike and walking trails, is the kind of project that can be built if Congress reauthorizes an expiring surface transportation bill before funding runs out in the fall.

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"To start the third day of my 'Invest in America, Commit to the Future' bus tour, I visited the east side of Atlanta’s planned BeltLine project," Foxx wrote in a blog post on the transportation department's website.

"This 22-mile ring of trails and transit and parks will not only connect more than 45 communities, but will connect people with better jobs, better education, and a higher quality of life," Foxx continued. "This is what the President calls a 'ladder of opportunity.'”

The Obama administration included $18 million for the  Beltline in its last round of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grants.

Foxx said Wednesday that Obama's proposal for a four-year, $302 billion transportation bill would include $72 billion for transit projects such as the Beltline.

"As I continue to travel across the country, I’ll be calling on Americans to join me in support of this proposal set forth by President Obama and DOT, which will provide funding for our nation’s roads and bridges and will provide funding for projects like the BeltLine, as well," he wrote. "That way, Atlanta – and the nation – can have what they deserve: a 21st-century transportation system."

The debate about the transportation funding bill Foxx is encouraging lawmakers to renew is confounded by the fact that there is an approximately $20 billion annual shortfall in available revenue for infrastructure projects.

The U.S. government's current transportation spending comes from the Department of Transportation's Highway Trust Fund, which is normally filled with revenue that is collected by the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax.  

The gas tax has not been increased since 1993 however, and receipts have been outpaced by infrastructure expenses in recent years as cars become more fuel efficient and U.S. residents have driven less often than they used to.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has forecasted that the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money as early as August. The budget agency has also said that lawmakers will have to approve $100 billion in addition to the $34 billion per year that is expected to be brought in by the gas tax to provide enough money to pay for a six-year transportation bill.

Transportation supporters have said the current expiring measure, which was passed in 2012, was too short to provide enough funding certainty to state and local governments that are relying on federal support for projects like the Atlanta Beltline. 

Democrats in the House have pushed to nearly double the gas tax to 33 cents per gallon to make up for the revenue that has been lost since the 1993 increase was not indexed to inflation.

Foxx has said that he prefers President Obama's proposal to use money from corporate tax reform to refill the Highway Trust Fund's coffers. In February, Obama proposed using $150 billion from closing tax loopholes to pay for new transportation projects.