State Transportation Department Officials Stress Urgency in Highway Trust Fund, MAP-21 Solutions

AASHTO Journal, 28 March 2014

Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Mike Lewis and Vermont Agency of Transportation Deputy Secretary Sue Minter testified before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Thursday, calling for Highway Trust Fund solvency and a surface transportation bill to succeed MAP-21.

EPW Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) opened the hearing by calling attention to the issues with the HTF and sympathizing with states and local governments in trying to plan projects during a time when they may not be able to count on federal funding.

“In order to make needed investments in our transportation infrastructure, Congress must ensure the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund. Make no mistake—we are running out of time. Last month, this Committee held a hearing on what the devastating impacts would be of letting the Highway Trust Fund run out of funding,” Boxer said in her opening statement. “Here are the sobering facts: [the Congressional Budget Office] and the U.S. Department of Transportation estimate that the Highway Trust Fund may run out of funds as early as September 2014, which would create cash flow problems for states during the critical summer construction season. Already states are cutting back on the construction projects they planned to go forward with this spring, and this trend will only continue to get worse as we get closer to insolvency.”

Lewis spoke on behalf of his own state and the impacts of the dwindling HTF, summarizing four major points.

“One—Rhode Island’s transportation improvement program is almost entirely dependent upon federal highway funding. If Congress does not act soon to at least restore historic funding levels, Rhode Island, even with increased state investment, simply cannot fill the investment gap. Two—due to the uncertainty of federal highway and transit funding for FY 2015, Rhode Island has been forced to virtually halt its advertising program for all new highway projects using FY 2014 apportionments. We’ve been forced to conserve our limited resources for existing commitments and emergencies only. Three—if Congress does not act, there will be an immediate and direct impact on an already distressed Rhode Island economy, including lost jobs and potentially permanently shuttered businesses. And lastly, the health of our state’s infrastructure is not just a local issue. Rhode Island is a key corridor in the movement of people and goods in the Northeast, as well as nationally.”

Minter echoed many of Lewis’ concerns.

“On behalf of all my DOT colleagues and our partners in the construction industry, we encourage you to refill the Highway Trust Fund as expeditiously as possible,” Minter said. “A national reduction of transportation projects this spring and summer will have an immediate and direct negative economic impact. Reducing or eliminating transportation projects translates into job losses in the construction industry. In a small state like ours, this can tip the balance of our fragile economy.”

On the matter of MAP-21 reauthorization, Minter said her agency “strongly supports” the continuation of the bill’s focus on funding flexibility, performance measurement and innovation, but she would like the next bill to also address infrastructure resiliency — an issue that greatly affected the state during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

Lewis and Minter were joined in their testimony by Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, St. Landry’s Parish (Louisiana) President Bill Fontenot, Converse County (Wyoming) Commission Chair Jim Wilcox, and Wilmington (Delaware) Area Planning Council Principal Planner Dave Gula.

Additional information on the hearing, including all witness’ written testimony and a video of the hearing, is available here. View this week’s Transportation TV coverage of this testimony at

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