AASHTO Journal

Infrastructure Groups Press Congress as Clock Ticks Toward May Deadline

An array of infrastructure advocacy groups, lawmakers and federal officials is pressing congressional leaders to get behind some kind of long-term investment plan for the nation's transportation systems before the Highway Trust Fund's authorization expires on May 31.

The latest efforts included a March 10 briefing on Capitol Hill about the gap in capital spending on highway and transit systems by Bud Wright, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and American Public Transportation Association President Michael Melaniphy.

031315wrightmelan.png Wright, left, and Melaniphy at Capitol Hill briefing.

Before a crowd of congressional aides, reporters and industry officials, they presented results of the AASHTO-APTA "Bottom Line Report" that shows all levels of government are spending well below the annual amounts needed to maintain transportation infrastructure and meet projected demand.

That report, said Wright, "makes a strong case that just shoring up the Highway Trust Fund to maintain current levels will not make much of a dent in the needed transportation investment that will improve economic performance and Americans' quality of life."

He said many states are taking steps to raise more revenue for transportation systems but they can't do it alone. There has to be a federal program," he said. "There has to be a national vision guiding the transportation investment that occurs in this country."

Melaniphy said that "keeping the current state" of program funding "is moving our country backwards."

APTA also took its message to Congress that same week as part of its annual legislative conference, and Melaniphy testified March 8 about a new surface transportation bill before a Senate committee.

Wright was scheduled for another forum on funding issues and infrastructure needs March 19 at the Newseum in Washington, in an event that would include U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa.

Separately, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association on March 12 unveiled a proposal for Congress to increase federal gasoline and diesel excise fees by 15 cents a gallon, with a possible tax rebate to cover the cost of for most household taxpayers and a repatriation tax on corporations' foreign profits to pay for the rebate.

ARTBA said that would leave the HTF with a permanently higher revenue stream that would avoid a sudden funding "cliff" six years later. The group's president, Pete Ruane, is also scheduled to participate in the March 19 Newseum forum.

Other groups are joining the push. Last month 42 state chambers of commerce signed a letter to congressional leaders urging them to pass a long-term reauthorization of the HTF and saying that "investment in America's transportation infrastructure must be a budgetary priority for the Congress."

On March 3 about 260 local and regional chambers sent Congress a letter pressing also for a long-term bill, while asking for provisions to be included that give local communities "more authority over both federal funding and decision-making."

Some members of Congress are taking their own steps to spur colleagues to action. AASHTO Journal has already reported on several bipartisan proposals aimed at raising revenue for transportation infrastructure.

And on Feb. 24, Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., who is on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, released what he called a bipartisan "supermajority letter" to House leaders from nearly 300 House members pressing for action on highway funding.

"We know that our country needs robust transportation infrastructure to compete in the global economy," the lawmakers wrote, while noting the past decade's pattern of short-term measures produces uncertainty that "impedes economic growth."

That House letter also said: "We are united in our conviction that now is the time to end the cycle of short-term extensions" and pass a multi-year reauthorization bill. "To make this happen, we support efforts to develop a long-term, sustainable revenue source for our nation's transportation network as soon as possible. Otherwise, we will not be able to enact a transportation bill that truly meets our country's economic and infrastructure needs."

Questions regarding this article may be directed to editor@aashtojournal.org.

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