The chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee told U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao he wants to see new infrastructure funding distributed through the established formula system in which the Highway Trust Fund allocates money to states and transit agencies.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., first highlighted that issue in his opening statement at a May 17 hearing where Chao was testifying, and later pressed Chao on it.
His emphasis on using the formula funding approach – which Congress most recently endorsed in 2015 when it passed the five-year Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act that authorized surface transportation funding levels through 2020 – supports a key point made by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and executives of state departments of transportation.
And since Barrasso chairs the committee that takes the lead on legislation involving transportation and other public works investments, he is in position to help make sure Congress uses that funding method in writing President Trump's infrastructure proposals into law.
While noting that pending proposals would cover more than surface transportation infrastructure, Barrasso said "our nation's highways, road and bridges should be a central component of any final infrastructure bill."
He noted that in a recent EPW hearing, Wyoming DOT Director Bill Panos had said using the FAST Act's largely formula-based distribution of federal funds would benefit both urban and rural states, and promptly push out the public benefits of the infrastructure measure.
"I agree," said Barrasso. "Using the formula-based approach will expedite the delivery of additional infrastructure spending which will ensure highway projects for the public will be built faster, as opposed to adopting a new funding structure that is less understood by the stakeholders."
He added: "Public-private partnerships can be effective in urban areas but do not work for rural states like Wyoming, and other small and rural states represented on this committee."
Later, during the question-answer period, Barrasso said that for distribution of funds "the current formula program seems to be working, people agree." He asked Chao if she agrees that using the existing formulas "would be the right way to go, rather than creating a whole new way to distribute the funds."
Chao responded: "We have certainly talked a great deal about formula funding. It certainly has been one way in which the various demands and requirements of members of Congress are addressed. So we are still talking about that as well."
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