Groups Push Congress For Longer-Term Fix For Highway Trust Fund
As the deadline to fund the U.S. Highway Trust Fund approaches, several industry groups are speaking out and asking Congress to come up with a long-term solution to keep America’s highway projects moving.
The clock is ticking on the fate of the U.S. Highway Trust Fund. Created in 1956 to finance the interstate highway system, the fund is expected to run out of money by the end of the summer if Congress does not vote to replenish its coffers.
Should funding expire, 700,000 people would be left without jobs, and infrastructure projects throughout the country would be abandoned, according to news reports.
Both the House and Senate have passed short-term solutions that fund highway repair through part of next year. Last week, for example, the House Ways and Means Committee approved a plan to provide more than $10 billion for road, bridge, and other infrastructure improvements through next May.
But a number of government, transportation, and business groups want more.
Early last week, seven associations representing state and local government officials, including the National League of Cities, U.S. Conference of Mayors, and National Governors Association, sent a letter [PDF] to Congress urging legislators to pass a long-term fix.
“As the owners and operators of 97 percent of the nation’s interconnected surface transportation systems, state and local governments know that a long-term vision and funding certainty are best for our country’s infrastructure,” the groups stated in the letter.
While state and local governments have had to fix and finance the transportation infrastructure needs of their local communities, they cannot do it all, the letter added. “We believe that a commitment to surface transportation at all levels of government is necessary and that each level—including the federal government—has a crucial role to play to achieve overall success and keep America competitive in a 21st-century economy.”
The House and Senate short-term fixes should not be “the latest ‘punt and leave the stadium’ strategy” that has afflicted the federal surface transportation program for too long, Pete Ruane, president and CEO of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, said in a statement.
“The Highway Trust Fund has been limping from crisis to crisis for the past six years as America’s transportation network continues to decline,” Ruane said. “Therefore, our message to Congress is simple: Your job isn’t close to being done.”
The American Trucking Association and AAA also voiced their support for a more permanent solution. ATA President and CEO Bill Graves urged an increase in highway user fees, of which ATA members contribute more than 40 percent.
“It is past time to make the investments necessary to maintain the safety and efficiency of our highways,” Graves said. “We applaud the House and Senate committees for moving a short-term solution forward, but extending the funding problem well into 2015 could endanger the nation’s economy, the future of the trucking industry, and, most importantly, the safety of truck drivers and other highway users.”
AAA also supports increasing highway user fees via a bump in the federal gas tax.
“AAA is on record in support of a gas tax increase, provided it’s tied to a significantly restructured federal transportation program that is performance-based and ensures greater accountability and transparency,” Robert L. Darbelnet, AAA president and CEO, said in a statement. “While the nation’s economic challenges may temper support for new taxes, a user-supported funding source exists for the much-needed investment in transportation infrastructure.”