Foxx: Temporary highway funding patch insufficient

Anne Wernikoff

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Monday that a temporary extension of road and transit funding that Congress is considering will not provide enough money to fully address the nation's infrastructure problems.

Lawmakers are working on a measure that would appropriate nearly $11 billion to extend transportation funding that is running out now until May 2015.

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But the measure is hardly cause for celebration, Foxx said Monday during a speech at the National Press Club in Washington.

"Even if we get a patch, even if we get 20 more patches, roads in Rhode Island are going to get worse," Foxx said while singling out a state he visited during a recent bus tour to see incomplete transportation projects.

"And Rhode Island is not alone."

Lawmakers have touted that their temporary transportation funding measure, which was approved by the House last week and prevent a bankruptcy in the Department of Transportation's Highway Trust Fund that has been predicted to occur next month.

Foxx said Monday that the problem with the temporary measure is that it maintains the status quo at a time when the nation's transportation problems require a funding increase.

"If we're only building for the present, we are building for the past," he said. "America needs more than just an incremental adjustment. We need a transportation reset, and it's got to be big."

Lawmakers have been struggling with a way to pay for a long-term transportation bill for the better part of a decade.

The last transportation funding package that lasted more than two years was passed in 2005.

The current transportation funding legislation, which is set to expire in September, is a two-year, $109 billion bill that was passed in 2012.

The measure was intended to bankroll the Highway Trust Fund through the end of the 2014 fiscal year, which runs until Sept. 30. The transportation department has warned lawmakers in recent months that the trust fund would run out of money in August, however.

The usual source for funding transportation projects is revenue that is collected from the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax. The tax has not be increased since 1993, however, and it has struggled to keep pace with infrastructure expenses as cars have become more fuel efficient in recent years.

The transportation bill that is expiring this year includes about $50 billion per year in road and transit spending, which infrastructure advocates say is the bare minimum that can be spent to maintain the current level of the nation's highways and bridges.

However, the gas tax brings only about $34 billion per year at its current rate, which some conservative groups have argued should be the maximum amount that is spent by lawmakers on transportation projects to avoid taking money from other areas of the federal budget to supplement the Highway Trust Fund.

The Obama administration has been suggesting that lawmakers use about $150 billion from closing corporate tax loopholes to help pay for a four-year, $302 billion transportation bill. Congress has resisted the proposal, focusing instead on a temporary patch that is funding by revenue from pension changes and custom fee increases.
 
Foxx said Monday that the temporary solution would only make the broader transportation problem in the long run because it delays finding a more a permanent funding solution.

"We're reaching the point where we're going to have to do something big or fold the tent," he said.

He added that the consequences of inaction are dire.

"We have no shortage of high-profile bridge collapses in this country," he said.

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