Congress moves highway spending bill forward
Washington—This week the Senate is expected to hold a series of votes on different proposals to maintain funding for the Highway Trust Fund, which provides reimbursement to states for road and bridge construction, transit infrastructure and operations, and safety programs.
The authority to spend money out of the Highway Trust Fund expires on Sept. 30. In addition, the fund faces insolvency before Sept. 30 due to a revenue shortfall. Experts warn that if Congress fails to wrap up its work on the highway bill by the August recess, road projects across the country could be majorly disrupted.
“The Highway Trust Fund is essentially so low on cash that by Aug. 1, states are going to see some of that money cut back,” said Rocky Moretti, director of policy and research for TRIP, a national transportation research group. “So it’s absolutely critical that Congress put in place a long-term program that continues the important role the federal government plays in providing funding for rural transportation.”
Many Americans associate rural roads with idyllic and peaceful Sunday drives, but depending on the time of the year, there can be a lot of activity on country byways, with farmers moving equipment, bringing supplies in and sending farm and ranch goods off to market.
“Twelve percent of [rural roads] have structurally deficient bridges, and 15 percent of the major rural roads have pavement in poor condition. This is the highest rate of deterioration [we’ve seen], and it’s consistent with the increasing travel and use of rural roads, which are absolutely vital to the economy of rural America,” Moretti said.
The House-passed $10.8 billion Highway and Transportation Funding Act (H.R. 5021), one of the bills the Senate is slated to consider, would provide funding through May 31, 2015, by transferring $9.8 billion from the general fund through changes in pension contributions and increases in customs fees. An additional $1 billion would be transferred from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund.
Senate leaders are also expected to give floor time to the Senate Finance Committee’s Highway Trust Fund package, the Preserving America’s Transit and Highways (PATH) Act of 2014. Like the House bill, the PATH Act funds the Highway Trust Fund through May 31, 2015, but would be paid for in a slightly different way.