USDOT Says New Highway Demand Levels Highlight Need for Trust Fund Boost

AASHTO Journal, 24 April 2015

The Federal Highway Administration said Americans drove 221.1 billion miles in February, a 2.8 percent increase from a year earlier and part of a rising demand pattern that underscores the need for greater investment in transportation infrastructure.

“As traffic volume continues to grow nationwide, so does the need for greater federal investment in our highways and bridges,said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The new numbers come as congressional leaders are trying to decide whether to push to pass a long-term reauthorization of the Highway Trust Fund or a short-term extension before its highway and transit program authority expires May 31.

Foxx has been pressing lawmakers to pass a robust funding plan to tackle a backlog of infrastructure needs rather than just keep highway and transit funded near current levels.

He recently said he thinks Congress will need at least a couple of extra months past May to craft a long-term bill, but that trust fund receipts will fall below safe cushion levels in July and prompt the DOT to prepare states for cash management limitations on their project cost reimbursements.

Some Washington observers are waiting to see if Congress opts for just a very short extension to July, in which case it may not need to also provide extra revenue for now, or will seek a longer extension lasting through September or December. To pay for an extension through the end of the calendar year, lawmakers would need to find about $10 billion to $11 billion in new revenue.

The FHWA said the February increase in vehicle miles traveled, on top of a bigger year-over-year gain in January, means drivers logged 3.9 percent more miles in the first two months of 2015 than a year earlier.

That was also the heaviest February driving volume since the record high in 2004, the agency said, and marked the 12th consecutive month of VMT growth.

“By measuring the demands placed upon our nation’s roads and bridges, we are better able to understand the need for greater investment in them,” said Deputy Federal Highway Administrator Gregory Nadeau. “Americans are driving farther and more frequently, which makes additional investments in our highway system more important now than ever.”

The figures, which include passenger vehicle, bus and truck travel, are based on vehicle information collected from more than 4,800 continuous-count stations nationwide.

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