Advocates: Highway shutdown beginning

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The uncertainty of federal transportation funding is already causing state and local governments to cancel construction projects, infrastructure advocates in Washington are saying.  

Lawmakers are struggling to come up with a way to pay for an extension of the current transportation funding measure, which is scheduled to expire in May. 

The looming deadline is causing states to reconsider projects they had planned for the summer months, according to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).

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“The number and value of delayed highway projects jumped this month, as more states said they cannot count on the federal funding share with the Highway Trust Fund's authorization expiring again on May 31,” the group said in an article that was posted on its website, citing examples in Georgia, Wyoming, Arkansas and Tennessee. 

“U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony FoxxFeds require new safeguards for railroad employees Uber to spend M to meet demand during Metro maintenance Virginia gov threatens to withhold DC Metro funding MORE told a March 19 infrastructure forum in Washington, D.C., that four states have already announced they were having to put a hold on projects as they wait for Congress to clear up the federal program uncertainty,” the AASHTO wrote “He said these are examples of how the repeated short-term extensions of the federal highway program have a negative economic impact for state planning and development.” 

The looming transportation funding has been a source of consternation in Washington. Lawmakers in both parties say they want to prevent an interruption in transportation funding to states, but consensus on how to pay for an extension of the spending has been elusive. 

The 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax has been the main source of federal transportation funding since the 1930s but it has not been increased since 1993. Revenue has also been sapped in recent years by improvements in auto fuel efficiency. 

The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings $34 billion annually at its current rate. 

Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget in recent years to close the $16 billion gap. 

Transportation advocates have pushed for an increase in the gas tax to make up the difference, but lawmakers have been reluctant to ask drivers to pay more at the pump to help pay for road projects. 

Conservative groups have meanwhile pushed to eliminate the gas tax and turn responsibility for construction projects over to states. They warn that otherwise the infrastructure deficit will continue to grow.