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Feds launch audit of state highway spending

Feds launch audit of state highway spending
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The Department of Transportation is launching an audit of state highway spending.

Officials with the agency’s inspector general (IG) said the review is intended to make sure federal funding that is allocated to states is being properly used.

The IG noted that the Federal Highway Administration’s State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) provides more than $37 billion annually for road and bridge construction.

“The objective of this audit is to assess FHWA policies, procedures, and guidance for ensuring that STIPs receive comprehensive, consistent reviews and meet federal requirements, including coordination with the Federal Transit Administration.” 

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The audit comes as 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 transportation funding has been a source of consternation in Washington, and transportation advocates have said states are already beginning to cancel construction projects in light of the rapidly approaching deadline. 

Lawmakers in both parties say they want to prevent an interruption in transportation funding to states, but have yet to reach consensus on how to pay for an extension of the spending.

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, meanwhile, have 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. 

The Department of Transportation has said that it will have to begin reducing payments to state governments in May if Congress does not reach a deal to extend transportation funding past the end of that month. 

Transportation advocates have said that a shutdown would cost the nation thousands of jobs because May is typically the beginning of the busy summer construction period.