AASHTO Journal

AASHTO Leadership Highlights Need for Infrastructure Plan That Also Fixes Trust Fund

Policymakers for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials called on Congress and the Trump administration to enact a major transportation investment program this year, one that channels federal funds through existing programs and includes a long-term revenue fix for the Highway Trust Fund.

Chief executives from state departments of transportation, who make up the AASHTO board, approved the policy statement May 25 at the association's spring meeting in Portland, Maine.

A day earlier, an advisory group approved an initial version of that position statement, in the first meeting of a new AASHTO Policy Forum under a major overhaul of the association's committee structure.

AASHTO's board approved the statement the same week that the White House issued President Trump's budget proposal for fiscal 2018, which starts Oct. 1. The administration both called for cuts in a number of transportation programs next year and laid out some principles it plans to use for a 10-year, $200 billion federal investment plan that it projects will generate $1 trillion overall in new public and private project spending.

capitol0816.jpgThe White House also signaled that it wants to re-examine the traditional way the federal government takes in revenue for the highway system and helps states allocate it.

AASHTO in its policy statement emphasized the federal government's constitutional duty to provide support for a national transportation system, and said that investment "has created jobs and underpinned robust economic growth in all parts of the nation."

The association noted that the current five-year surface transportation authorization law, the FAST Act, has provided near-term funding stability and relief to states, but that a major funding gap remains between infrastructure needs and the resources available to pay for them.

And, after the FAST Act expires in 2020, AASHTO said, "the Highway Trust Fund would need $96 billion in additional revenues to support a five-year bill or $120 billion to support a six-year bill" to keep programs funded at then-current levels.

AASHTO called for the president to honor "his commitment to shepherd and enact a major infrastructure package this year." It said that "at a minimum, the infrastructure package address the funding shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund with a long-term and sustainable revenue solution."

The group urged that "the existing federal program structure – including highways, transit and rail – be utilized" to distribute any direct federal funding, "since it would enable investments to flow to every area of the country."

It also called for project investments in the coming program to focus on "transportation investments that secure our nation's economic future for the long-term through multi-decade improvements in productivity and quality of life," instead of so-called shovel-ready projects that the statement said "are best suited for a recessionary economic environment."

Administration officials have said their project investment package will cover various types on non-transportation needs as well. However, the state DOT executives proposed "that the infrastructure package focuses its budgetary support on transportation infrastructure, given the essential nature of federal funding and oversight compared to other asset classes."

And while the association observed that "opportunities exist to expand private participation in the provision of infrastructure," it called for federal policymakers to "recognize that most transportation projects do not generate a revenue stream and therefore require federal support in the form of direct funding rather than financing incentives that encourage borrowing or utilizing private capital.

The state officials agreed with an administration push to find more ways to speed up infrastructure projects, such as by letting states take on more of the environmental review requirements now handled by the Federal Highway Administration or other U.S. agencies.

The association's board recommended that "wherever possible, traditional federal authorities be assigned to states to expedite and streamline project delivery without sacrificing fundamental principles associated with current federal requirements."

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

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