Union launches infrastructure funding tour at closed Delaware bridge

The Laborers’ International Union of North America union is launching a tour to push Congress to approve a new round of federal road and transit spending at a heavily-traveled Delaware interstate bridge that has been shut down for nearly three weeks because of a dangerous construction flaw. 

The union said the bridge, which was closed on June 2 when engineers discovered it was not level, was an ideal place to start its six-week “Getting Schooled in Infrastructure” tour because it normally carries about 90,000 vehicles per day on Delaware’s Interstate 495. 

“It’s time to stop sugar-coating this issue,” LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan said in a statement. “We are not trying to scare people, but we are trying to wake people and Congress up.”

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Lawmakers are scrambling to find a way to close a shortfall in transportation funding that is estimated to be as high as $15 billion before the Department of Transportation runs out of money for its Highway Trust Fund, which has been predicted to occur as August without congressional action. 

The traditional source for transportation funding is revenue that is collected by the federal gas tax, which is currently 18.4 cents per gallon. The tax only brings is about $34 billion per year, however, and the current level of transportation spending LiUNA and other infrastructure advocates want lawmakers to maintain is about $50 billion annually.

The closing of the bridge across the Christina River made national headlines because Delaware officials have said the heavily-traveled commuter route will likely be closed completely until at least Labor Day. 

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx visited the bridge last week with Delaware Sen. Tom Carper (D). 

Foxx and President Obama has recommended that lawmakers use approximately $150 billion from closing corporate tax loopholes to help pay for a new four-year, $302 billion transportation bill. 

The corporate tax reform proposal is considered unlikely to be approved and lawmakers in both chambers have begun exploring other funding options, however. 

LiUNA and other transportation advocates have pushed Transportation Congress to increase the gas tax for the first time in two decades to close the gap, but most lawmakers have been reluctant to raise taxes in the middle of an election year. 

A more recent proposal from Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) calls for replacing the gas tax with a “barrel tax” on oil suppliers. 

O’Sullivan said Monday that lawmakers should do whatever it takes to prevent a bankruptcy in transportation funding this summer. 

“Congress has multiple, viable options to consider,” the union leader said. “But it is time to act. The most reliable, tested investment resource for our roads and bridges is the gas tax and adjusting it will give Americans what they want and need – safer roads and bridges in their states and communities.”