A temporary highway fix at the federal level continues to leave the nation’s roadways in trouble.
Under a House of Representatives bill passed Tuesday, states would continue to receive highway and transit aid for another two months. Without the extension, the federal Highway Trust Fund, which finances most aid to states, expires May 31.
The fund relies on revenue from the 18.4-cents-a-gallon federal gasoline tax, but the tax hasn’t been increased since 1993 and the money it brings in isn’t enough to cover transportation spending. Still, most lawmakers are reluctant to raise it and risk the ire of voters.
Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the bill’s chief sponsor, acknowledged the two-month extension is less than ideal, especially since it expires in the middle of the summer construction season. Uncertainty over whether they can count on federal aid has already caused some states to cancel or delay millions of dollars in construction projects.
In response, the Associated General Contractors of America is launching a new nationwide social media campaign to push for a boost in federal transportation spending called #DriveBetterRoads. The new effort is designed to encourage Congress and the Obama administration to figure out a way to fund needed highway and transit repairs.
During debate on the extension, Democratic lawmakers also introduced a bill proposed by the White House that would spend $478 billion on transportation over six years, a 45 percent hike over current spending. The spending increase would be paid for by closing loopholes that allow U.S. corporations to avoid paying taxes on foreign earnings by parking the profits overseas.
Prior to the extension, Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., introduced legislation to create a national infrastructure bank as way to pay for an extension of federal transportation funding. Under that proposal, states would return unused money from previous construction projects to create a pool of funding for future projects. In exchange, participating states would receive greater control over their transportation projects and become eligible for low-interest federal loans for certain infrastructure work.
The U.S. Senate will vote on the two-month extension later this week, while the fate of the other transportation funding mechanisms is unclear.
Along with deteriorating highways and major roadways, a report released Tuesday by TRIP, a national transportation research group based in Washington, D.C., found that the nation’s rural transportation system is in need of improvements to address deficient roads and bridges, high crash rates, and inadequate connectivity and capacity.
The Associated Press also contributed to this report.