DOT chief touts Louisiana highway on bus tour

Anne Wernikoff

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx touted on Friday a highway project in Shreveport, La., that has received $42 million from the federal government as example of why Congress should approve a new transportation funding bill. 

The highway, a 10-mile extension of U.S. Interstate 49, is scheduled to open in May. 

Foxx said in a blog post on the Department of Transportation’s website that the Louisiana project was an example of types of infrastructure projects that could be completed if Congress were to approve a new round of transportation funding this summer. 

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“By 2020, 37,000 vehicles will travel this highway every day, reducing traffic on other roads,” Foxx wrote about the I-49 extension. 

The current transportation funding bill is scheduled to expire in September. Lawmakers are debating a potential extension, but they are confronting an infrastructure funding shortfall that is projected to be as high as $20 billion annually. 

The current funding source for the federal government’s transportation projects is the DOT’s Highway Trust Fund. The trust fund is normally filled with revenue that is collected from the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax, but infrastructure expenses have far outpaced receipts as cars become more fuel efficient and U.S. residents drive less frequently than they used to. 

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has projected that the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money as early as August without congressional action. 

Foxx and President Obama have suggested that lawmakers use $150 billion they say can be saved from corporate tax reform to refill the Highway Trust Fund enough to approve a four-year, $302 billion surface transportation bill this year. 

Transportation advocates have pushed for a six-year bill, arguing that state and local governments need that length of certainty that federal funds will be coming to plan infrastructure projects that require contributions from the Transportation Department. 

The CBO has projected that lawmakers would have to find at least another $100 billion in addition to the approximately $34 billion that is expected to brought in annually by the gas tax to pay for a such a six-year transportation bill. 

Foxx said Friday that Congress needed to do something because a majority of Louisiana’s other roads, beside the nearly-complete I-49 extension, are in need of repair. 

“While this highway will make a huge difference in the region and across the country, more than 60 percent of all the roads in Louisiana are unfortunately still in 'poor or mediocre condition,' ” he wrote. “And because bad roads mean more traffic jams and more wear-and-tear on cars, they’re costing every driver in that state $408 dollars a year.

“But the cost today is nothing compared to the cost to future generations,” Foxx continued. “That’s why I’m asking Americans to join me in support of the proposal set forth by President Obama and DOT, which will provide funding for our nation’s roads and bridges all across the country.” 

Foxx is scheduled to conclude his week-long “Invest in America, Commit to the Future” bus tour in Dallas on Friday.