LaHood seeks to replenish Highway Trust Fund

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Wednesday, June 17, announced that he is proposing an immediate 18-month highway reauthorization that will replenish the Highway Trust Fund. “If this step is not taken, the trust fund will run out of money as soon as late August, and states will be in danger of losing the vital transportation funding they need and expect,” LaHood said.

LaHood said he also is proposing critical reforms to help the federal government make better transportation investment decisions by using cost-benefit analysis, focusing on more investments in metropolitan areas, and promoting the concept of livability to link home and work more closely. “The administration opposes a gas-tax increase during this challenging recessionary period, which has hit consumers and businesses hard across our country,” he said.

LaHood’s plan on behalf of the Obama administration is at odds with an announcement made today, June 18, at a Capitol Hill news conference, where the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure released their blueprint for the next surface transportation authorization bill.

The Committee’s “Big Four” — Committee Chairman James L. Oberstar, Ranking Member John A. Mica of Florida, Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Chairman Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon and Ranking Member John J. Duncan Jr. of Tennessee — released a 100-page report outlining the policy and procedural reforms that will be included in the surface transportation bill now being drafted. The Transportation Committee expects to have the bill finished and ready for Subcommittee mark-up next week.

Oberstar said he plans to move ahead with the bill despite LaHood’s preference to delay the new authorization by 18 months. “Delay is unacceptable,” he said. “Delay casts uncertainty on the program. If we delay the new authorization, states will hold back on new projects, and that will cost jobs. We are not in the business of delay. It is time to move ahead.”

“This is no time to sidetrack the only bill coming before Congress that will create millions of jobs,” Mica said. “I am prepared to move forward in a bipartisan effort to restore our nation’s crumbling infrastructure and put people to work with the bill we have agreed to introduce.”

“We are the greatest country in the world, yet our economy is threatened by congestion,” DeFazio said. “The Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009 is a transformational bill that will provide clear national transportation objectives and hold states and local governments accountable for how they spend federal transportation funds. Our bill will make our highways safer, improve our roads and transit systems, make our businesses more competitive by reducing their costs due to time spent in traffic, and reduce the amount of time the average person spends in gridlock.”

LaHood said he recognized that there will be concerns raised about his proposal to delay the new authorization by 18 months. “However, with the reality of our fiscal environment and the critical demand to address our infrastructure investments in a smarter, more focused approach, we should not rush legislation,” he said. “We should work together on a full reauthorization that best meets the demands of the country. The first step is making sure that the Highway Trust Fund is solvent. The next step is addressing our transportation priorities over the long term.”