Foxx Eyes Short Extension of Highway Trust Fund as Congress Works on Long-Term Plan

AASHTO Journal, 17 April 2015

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters Congress appears to be heading toward a short-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund before its program authority ends May 31, while lawmakers continue to work on a multi-year transportation plan.

Politico reported that Foxx, in comments after speaking at a Pew Charitable Trusts forum on April 17, said he had heard that was an option lawmakers are considering for now, given that the Highway Trust Fund is expected to remain solvent through July.

“A purposeful extension is probably the best we can hope for right now,” he said. Politico also reported that Foxx said he could support an extension only if it leads to a longer bill. “That’s a patch, it’s not a solution,” he said. “If they need a few more months, make them purposeful months.”

That Pew event also included a lengthy roundtable discussion of transportation financing issues by senior officials from three state departments of transportation.

They were Paul Trombino, director of the Iowa DOT;  Director Leif Dormsjo of the District of Columbia’s transportation department; and Nick Donohue, Virginia’s deputy transportation secretary.

Each emphasized the importance of Congress maintaining the federal transportation programs without interruption.

Trombino said 50 percent of the Iowa DOT’s highway construction is paid for by federal dollars, and that there would be “severe” backlash for Congress if it did not keep the Highway Trust Fund afloat.

Trombino also said that even through Iowa has increased its own motor fuel user charge to pay for more infrastructure upgrades, his department would soon suffer negative cash flows if the federal funding was interrupted.

Donohue said both highway construction and rural transit operations that many elderly residents depend on would quickly run into funding problems in Virginia in the event of a failure by Congress to act on transportation legislation. “The reality of what would happen if they don’t do it is just untenable,” he said.

Dormsjo, who worked for the Maryland DOT before helming DDOT, said past actions by Congress have already tightened up the market for certain types of infrastructure bonds.

A congressional “sequester” of spending programs caused some bond issuers to pull back, he said, while the lack of certainty over long-term federal funding flows has curbed activity by some issuers of bonds to states that are tied to long-term federal payments.

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