A number of leading transportation stakeholders groups reacted to President Trump's call for Congress to pass major infrastructure investment legislation by saying they want any such bill to finally fix the long-ailing Highway Trust Fund, and some by warning about its risks.
The trust fund is the nation's largest federal source of project investment, providing more than $50 billion a year to highway and transit programs that mainly distribute federal dollars by formula to states and local agencies so they can use the money where they most need it.
Many stakeholders are wary of any new plan that would have officials in Washington and for-profit investors decide which projects to support across the country, even as they agree with the administration's goal of shortening the often lengthy federal permitting process.
As the president gave his "State of the Union" address, Bud Wright, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, explained the views of chief executives of state departments of transportation.
"We are pleased that President Trump continues to highlight the need for additional federal investment in infrastructure," said Wright.
"AASHTO has for years called for a long-term strategy to shore up the Highway Trust Fund in order to maintain federal investment in surface transportation. We are looking forward to seeing the president's infrastructure plan and working closely with the administration and Congress to advance a robust, long-term infrastructure bill that supports needed reforms such as streamlining project delivery in ways that also protect our natural resources."
At the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, CEO Pete Ruane said that after the president called for new legislation "the ball is in Capitol Hill's court. If scientists can clone monkeys, Congress ought to be able to figure out how to raise federal dollars to fix the Highway Trust Fund and modernize our choking National Freight Network. Those are the top two infrastructure priorities."
The American Trucking Associations, which represents commercial trucking fleets, recently proposed creating a "Build America Fund" and imposing a new wholesale fuel tax to both cover the trust fund's revenue gap and increase spending on multimodal infrastructure.
ATA President Chris Spear in a Jan. 30 statement also commended the president for making a priority of infrastructure investment, but zeroed in on the need to raise dedicated revenue to improve transportation.
"As both sides of Capitol Hill know, modernizing our infrastructure will require a substantial investment – actual, real revenue," Spear said. "America cannot be rebuilt with funding gimmicks and finance schemes . . . We look forward to working with Congress and the administration and educating the public on why a fuel user fee is the most cost-effective and conservative answer to fixing our deteriorating roads and bridges."
NATSO, which represents truck stop and travel plaza operators along the nation's highway network, cautioned that Trump had given "no insight into how such a massive bill would be paid for." It said Trump had "reiterated his clear intent to shift responsibility for financing infrastructure projects from the federal government to the states and private sector."
However, the association said, "NATSO thinks it is imperative that the federal government maintain its strong national role in infrastructure development, and not relinquish its responsibility to the states or the private sector. NATSO has long supported increasing the nation's motor fuels taxes to fund infrastructure and has urged the administration to seek sustainable solutions to funding infrastructure that don't harm American businesses and highway users."
NATSO is also a member – along with trucking companies, motorcycle groups and some freight shippers – in a coalition called the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates that fights against proposals to expand tolling of interstate highways.
The alliance said that "if Trump relies on the private sector and forcing states and localities to come up with their own funding, Trump's infrastructure plan could result in a patchwork of tolls that span coast to coast."
It added: "Tolls are a wildly inefficient tax, sacrificing money that could go toward construction instead going to corporate profits and administrative costs. In addition to the diversion onto secondary roads which causes congestion and public safety issues, tolls will do unimaginable harm to businesses, as shipping and manufacturing prices skyrocket to account for these new costs."
State departments of transportation finally have access to all of their scheduled federal highway program funds for fiscal 2018, after the Federal Highway Administration issued a formal distribution notice April 16.
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