The Department of Transportation is worried that states will start slowing their highway and transit programs even before this summer when the Highway Trust Fund is slated to start running out of money.
DOT will start ratcheting back highway payments to states when the Fund balance goes below $4 billion, now projected to happen in July, but is concerned that the impact of the shortfall will show up even sooner, said Peter Rogoff, acting under secretary for policy.
“The trajectory for the highway account has worsened,” Rogoff told Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., at a hearing on Wednesday. “We are concerned that we will see an impact before then that will impact employment.”
DeFazio took issue with solutions proposed by the administration and Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., that would replenish the Fund through corporate tax reform.
The administration’s plan is “illusory,” DeFazio said. “It won’t happen this year.”
He repeated his call for indexing the federal fuel tax to construction cost inflation and use the revenue stream to finance reinvestment in infrastructure.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to get unelected because of that,” DeFazio said. “We have an unprecedented problem.”
Rogoff repeated the administration’s position that it is open to any ideas, and that the tax reform proposals have merit.
The oversight hearing by the Highways and Transit Subcommittee gave members a chance to air their concerns about a range of DOT issues, including truck safety.
Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wisc., the chairman of the panel, asked Anne Ferro, chief of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, what the agency is doing about shortcomings in the DataQ system used to correct company safety scores.
Ferro said the agency has received many comments on its proposal to fix DataQs. Under the proposal, if a state dismisses a violation the violation will be removed from the carrier’s data in the CSA safety enforcement system.
Once the review process is complete, “we expect to proceed with a better approach,” she said.
Ferro also confirmed that publication of a proposed rule on electronic logs is imminent.
And she said that the agency is in the second phase of a study analyzing the link between safety and industry detention practices.
“Detention time has a big impact on companies and drivers and wastes almost $4 billion in efficiency,” she said. The study is due next year.
Several members complained to Ferro about the 34-hour restart provision of the hours of service rule.
Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., said it is hypocritical of Ferro to issue a rule restricting driver hours while she works 60 or more hours a week.
Ferro tried to explain that she is not driving a truck, but Mullin spoke over her, saying that the rule needs to be more flexible.
Similarly, Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., repeated past complaints about the agency’s field study of the restart rule. The agency said the study shows the restriction improves safety but Hanna said it failed to measure the impact of forcing drivers into early morning rush hour.
Ferro said, “I’m not hired to help the industry but to improve the safety of the public.”
Hanna said, “You need to back up and believe the drivers” who are complaining about the rule.