At a news conference this week, Susan Martinovich, director of the Nevada Department of Transportation and president of AASHTO, along with several top officials of state transportation departments, sent an urgent message to Congress.
"We're here today to sound the alarm," Martinovich said. "Congress must take action by Sept. 30, or the federal highway and transit programs that support thousands of jobs in every state will shut down."
More than 500,000 jobs and countless state and local projects to modernize and improve transportation across the U.S. are in jeopardy, according to state transportation officials.
Martinovich and others attending the annual meeting of the Southeastern Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials outlined two critical actions that must be taken by Congress before the seventh extension of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users legislation (known as SAFETEA-LU) expires on Sept. 30.
First, Congress must extend the fuel tax that provides the revenue to fund federal highway and transit programs. Second, it must pass a long-term reauthorization of those programs funded at the highest level possible, AASHTO said.
"The federal government provides about $42 billion for highways and $11 billion for transit to states annually," Martinovich said. "Sustaining this investment is imperative. Should Congress decide to reduce the program by one-third as some have proposed, it would mean the cancellation of hundreds of job-creating projects that are essential to America's economic recovery."
For instance, Mike Hancock, AASHTO president and Kentucky transportation secretary, noted that Kentucky has $447 million in federal-aid highway construction and repair projects ready for bidding over the next four months.
The Kentucky projects include the next phase of the long-awaited and badly needed widening of Interstate 65, replacement of numerous deficient bridges, and rehabilitation of pavement on multiple interstate routes, including heavily traveled I-471 in northern Kentucky.
"We urgently need for Congress to pass a reauthorization bill - one that sustains funding at current levels and adjusts revenues for inflation," Hancock said. "States need certainty. Effective planning is impossible otherwise. Without reauthorization, projects will have to be dramatically slowed, with a moratorium on new projects, because the state cannot carry federal-aid projects on its own."
When Congress reconvenes in September, it has only 11 legislative days to take action.
Martinovich urged state transportation officials across the country to communicate with their members of Congress during this month-long congressional break when members are back in their home states.