AASHTO Journal, 17 July 2015
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx kept information flowing this month about the risks to states and transit agencies if Congress does not extend the Highway Trust Fund this month. Foxx also continued to push for a long-term authorization rather than a short extension.
His efforts came even as Congress began acting on separate trust fund measures. But given that congressional leaders had yet to settle on an agreed strategy to keep the trust fund operating, the countdown to July 31 expiration continued.
The Department of Transportation on July 9 issued a set of fact sheets that it said highlight the “grim state of U.S. roads and bridges.”
That release listed each state’s number of structurally deficient or obsolete bridges, the percentage of roads in poor or mediocre condition and the extra annual vehicle maintenance costs to that state’s drivers for using such infrastructure.
The DOT also issued its latest “ticker” that uses charts to show how fast the trust fund’s highway and transit accounts are running out of money.
Foxx wrote in his department’s Fast Lane blog that “both accounts are dwindling fast,” and “the timing couldn’t be worse because summer is the season for road work – whether it’s patching potholes; renewing pavement, safety devices, and signage; or working on new projects.”
On July 14, the USDOT chief sent letters to the heads of all state and territorial DOTs, which rely on trust fund reimbursements for the federal share of highway project costs, to formally remind them that absent congressional action the federal payments would halt after July 31.
“Unless Congress acts prior to this date, the Federal Highway Administration will be unable to incur new obligations or make reimbursements” starting Aug. 1, he wrote.
Foxx also used the letter to argue for a long-term measure to end the repeated trust deadlines and threats of interrupted funding.
“Congress’s failure to pass a long-term bill is of great concern to all of us who are engaged in the work of building and maintaining our nation’s transportation infrastructure,” he wrote state agency CEOs.
“Careening from self-inflicted crisis to self-inflicted crisis undermines our system. We need Congress to break the cycle of short term extensions; we need a long-term bill with significant growth.”
Some members of Congress have suggested finding enough revenue to get the Highway Trust Fund past the 2016 election, or for about two years.
To the state officials, Foxx said: “Many of you have already told us that a 2- or 3-year patch is insufficient to right the trajectory. We need your help explaining to Congress why a short-term bill that perpetuates chronic underinvestment is unacceptable.”