The Obama administration remains hopeful that Congress will agree to pass a new long-term highway funding authorization, but is cautious as to whether it will happen before two key deadlines.
That was the message from U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx as part of his Invest in America, Commit to the Future bus tour that’s currently going through eight states. The tour includes visits to manufacturers, bridges, freight facilities and highway projects in an effort to raise awareness of America’s infrastructure needs.
On Wednesday it rolled into Birmingham, Ala., with Foxx using the opportunity to call on Capitol Hill lawmakers to pass a long-term transportation bill.
“Transportation is not a partisan issue. You show me a Democratic or Republican pothole,” Foxx told a crowd of reporters and local leaders. “The President has a proposal that … would increase investments in our highway system, our roads, decaying bridges and increase investment in our freight network so that we can connect America to jobs of the 21st century and restore manufacturing jobs in this country.”
The current federal highway funding authorization, known as MAP-21, expires at the end of September. Early this week the Transportation Department announced that the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for federally funded road and bridge projects under MAP-21, will run out of money in August or September due to declining revenue.
“Over the past few years it has become clear [the Highway Trust Fund] isn’t sufficient to address the needs our country has for transportation,” Foxx said.
Foxx said if a deal isn’t struck by the time the current authorization expires or before the Highway Trust Fund runs out of money, 700,000 jobs in American would be at risk immediately.
Both the Obama Administration and Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich. and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, have both suggested one-time infusions to the Highway Trust Fund as well as comprehensive reform of the business tax code that would dedicate money to the Highway Trust Fund.
When asked in an interview with Truckinginfo.com/Heavy Duty Trucking about these plans, and if the administration was in talks with Camp, Foxx said, “there are a lot of conversations happening in Washington right now,” but noted over the next several weeks and months, “we hope to get closer to yes.”
Foxx also said the administration is open to other funding ideas, provided they call for long-term funding solutions.
“We have go to keep pushing for that, and whether we have to have a short-term measure to get to yes on something is still an open question, but we are going to keep pushing for a long-term solution.”
As for a possible increase in federal diesel and gasoline taxes to prop up the Highway Trust Fund or pay for more road work, Foxx said, “We believe that given this Congress and the conversation we have had to this point that our ‘pay for’ is the best ‘pay for’ for the country right now.
"We have also expressed an openness to the ideas that may emerge from discussions that Congress' people have among themselves about this, and we will continue to keep an open ear and open mind to what comes back.”