Feds to spend $232M on emergency bridge repairs

Feds to spend $232M on emergency bridge repairs
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The Department of Transportation (DOT) is preparing to spend $232 million on repairing roads and bridges that have been damaged by recent storms, the agency announced on Wednesday. 

The funding, from Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief program, is being distributed to 26 states and Puerto Rico, according to the department. 

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“We are committed to getting transportation facilities restored as quickly as possible following natural disasters and other emergencies,” Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony Renard FoxxReport: Chao has used government planes seven times this year Week ahead in tech: Lawmakers turn focus to self-driving cars Six contenders to be Uber's new CEO MORE said in a statement. “These funds will certainly repair roads and bridges, but most importantly, they are helping people who rely on them every day to arrive at their jobs and pick up their children at school.” 

The infrastructure funding comes as Foxx is attempting to convince Congress to approve President Obama’s proposal to spend $478 billion on transportation projects over the next six years. Foxx is on a bus tour of southeastern states touting Obama’s proposed legislation, which is known as the Grow America Act.

Transportation Department officials said the emergency repair funding that was announced on Wednesday is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of infrastructure funding that is needed to improve the U.S. transportation system. 

“According to Beyond Traffic, a report issued by the Department in February, the Federal Highway Administration estimates that approximately $77 billion in annual investment is needed to meet the needs of our federal-aid highway system,” the agency said in a statement. “In addition, there are 60,000 miles of coastal roads in America that are exposed to flooding from heavy rain and storm surges. Low-lying road infrastructure is particularly vulnerable to storm surges and bridges — because they often cross or are near bodies of water — are vulnerable to storm surges.” 

Acting Federal Highway Administrator Gregory Nadeau said it was still important for the Transportation Department to make emergency relief awards. 

“We want states to know that they can go ahead and expedite repairs where they are needed most following a disaster and that they will be repaid,” Nadeau said in a statement. "It is our top priority to help states and their communities that have been hurt by storms like these — so their residents can get back to traveling freely and safely again.”

The Obama administration’s broader transportation funding proposal calls for spending nearly $80 billion per year on road and transit projects over the next six years. The figure is a large increase over the approximately $50 billion per year that is currently being spent by the federal government on infrastructure improvements.

Lawmakers have begun considering a new transportation bill with the current measure set to expire in May. However, they have struggled to come up with a way to pay for the infrastructure spending beyond revenue that is collected from the federal gas tax, which is at 18.4 cents per gallon. 

The gas tax has been the traditional source of transportation funding for decades, but it has not been increased since 1993 and has struggled in recent years to keep pace with rising construction costs as cars have become more fuel efficient. 

The gas tax brings in approximately $34 billion at its current rate, resulting in a nearly $16 billion annual shortfall in transportation funding even before an increase such as the administration’s proposal is considered. 

Transportation advocates have pushed for an increase in the gas tax to boost infrastructure funding, but the Obama administration has said it would prefer using revenue from taxing overseas corporate profits to pay for new construction projects. 

The Transportation Department said Wednesday that Colorado was the biggest recipient of its emergency relief funding, with $55 million going to the Centennial State. 

Other notable projects that were selected for reimbursements include a heavily-traveled bridge on Interstate 495 that was closed last summer because of structural deficiencies. 

The full list of emergency relief projects can be read here