Transportation chief slams highway patches

Transportation chief slams highway patches
© Anne Wernikoff

Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony Renard FoxxBusiness, labor groups teaming in high-speed rail push Hillicon Valley: Uber, Lyft agree to take California labor win nationwide | Zoom to implement new security program along with FTC | Virgin Hyperloop completes first test ride with passengers Uber, Lyft eager to take California labor win nationwide MORE chided lawmakers this week for settling for temporary infrastructure funding measures. 

Congress is struggling to come up with a way to pay for a long-term extension of the federal government’s surface transportation funding bill, which is scheduled to expire on May 31, and lawmakers appear likely to be getting ready to settle for a short-term fix as the deadline looms. 

Foxx said during a trip to Pennsylvania that the short-term transportation funding measures should be an “outrage” to U.S. residents, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports

ADVERTISEMENT

“How can you plan, as a researcher or a civil engineer in a transportation department, if you don’t have long-term certainty” Foxx said, according to the report. “I think the American people are going to have to say at some point, ‘This is enough. We can’t keep driving on these potholes.’ ”

Lawmakers are scrambling to find a way to pay for at least a temporary extension of the expiring transportation funding measure, which typically provides about $50 billion per year for road and transit projects across the nation. 

The typical source of transportation funding has been revenue that is collected from the 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax. The gas tax brings in about $34 billion per year, leaving lawmakers with an approximately $16 billion annual hole to fill. 

Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget in recent years to close the shortfall, but transportation advocates have said the resulting temporary patches have made it harder for states to plan long-term construction projects that require reliable federal funding. 

The Obama administration has proposed a four-year, $478 billion transportation bill that would be paid for largely with revenue from taxing corporate profits overseas to pay for the new round of infrastructure spending. 

Republicans in Congress have said they are open to the idea, which is referred to in Washington as “repatriation,” but the parties have squabbled over whether the foreign taxes should be mandatory or voluntary. 

Congress has approved only a series of temporary infrastructure funding patches since a 2005 transportation bill expired in 2009, including the $11 billion measure scheduled to expire on May 31. 

The Department of Transportation has said, meanwhile, that it will have to start cutting off payments to states in July if Congress does not pass a funding fix because its Highway Trust Fund will run out of money. The fund, which is used to pay for most federal infrastructure projects, takes in revenue from the gas tax. 

The gas tax has not been increased since 1993, and it has struggled to keep pace with rising construction costs as cars have become more fuel-efficient. 

Lawmakers have introduced a series of bills recently to extend the expiring transportation funding measure, but they have not yet coalesced around a specific funding source. The idea of increasing the federal gas tax to help pay for construction projects has been discussed, but many lawmakers are reluctant to ask drivers to pay more at the pump. 

The Senate Banking Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the potential extension of the transportation funding bill on Thursday morning.