Photo: Evan Lockridge

Photo: Evan Lockridge

Two Republicans on Capitol Hill have re-introduced a controversial bill taking a radical approach to the issue of highway funding -- handing responsibility for infrastructure over to the states.

The Transportation Empowerment Act (TEA), filed in both chambers of Congress by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), would lower the gas tax from 18.4 cents per gallon to 3.7 cents over five years.

At the same time, it would transfer authority over federal highways and transit programs to states and replace congressional appropriations with block grants.

“By cutting out the bureaucratic middle man in Washington, states will be able to keep more of their infrastructure dollars at home where they belong and they will be able to avoid the costly and often duplicative federal regulations that can bring any infrastructure project to a screeching halt,” Lee said in a press release.

The concept, known as “devolution,” is popular with conservatives who say road and transit infrastructure should be left up to states.

Opponents believe the federal government is best suited to handle transportation infrastructure that runs between states, like highways.

On his website, in talking about the bill, Lee focuses on the local commute, but does not address how the bill might affect interstate commerce and travel.

"It aims to open up America’s transportation system to greater local control, better targeted projects, and a more efficient way to maintain and improve the nation’s infrastructure. The bill allows states to respond to the needs of their communities and develop systems that result in less traffic, shorter commutes, access to more affordable homes, and will help families better manage the work-life balance."

It's not the first time this approach has been broached on Capitol Hill. A bill introduced under the same name last year would have done the same. Although the sponsors were different, the concept is the same.

American Trucking Associations and its allies in response to that bill called devolution "abandonment by Congress of its constitutional obligation to promote interstate commerce," saying it "would prove disastrous to state and local governments’ ability to maintain and improve their transportation systems.

Current highway funding legislation expires July 31, after a two-month extension was passed at the end of May -- the 33rd legislative patch slapped into place by Congress to keep road projects funded since 2008.