Transportation secretary: Change needed now to help eroding highway fund

WASHINGTON — For every gallon of gasoline drivers purchase, about 18 cents goes into a federal Highway Trust Fund — but that’s not enough to prevent the fund from going broke. Now, the nation’s transportation secretary and other leaders are coming up with ways to boost the fund and repair the nation’s aging infrastructure.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says the consequences could be dire if the transportation trust fund runs out of money. About 700,000 jobs are at risk, transportation projects could halt and by 2020, businesses could lose $1 trillion a year in sales.

If nothing is done, the Highway Trust Fund would run out of money this summer.

“The cumulative effects of short-term measure that Congress has passed over the years — 18 continuous resolutions, for instance — has meant that the pipeline of projects is slowing and our ability to grow America in the right way is also slowing,” Foxx said on WTOP Wednesday.

“We’ve got to make a change and we’ve got to do it now.”

On Tuesday, Foxx sent a four-year, $302 billion longterm transportation bill to Congress that, instead of relying on the gas tax, will use pro-growth business tax reform, he says. Also, the bill will put about $150 billion into the system beyond what the gas tax raised.

The trust fund is bankrolled by the 18.4 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1993.

With more fuel-efficient vehicles on the road, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., says the federal gas tax no longer raises enough money.

Congress can’t afford to wait either, Connolly says. The current two-year transportation bill expires in the coming months.

“Congress has a moment of truth and we are going to have to do something and we are going to have to do it this year,” Connolly said on WTOP Wednesday.

Connolly says funding future infrastructure projects is vital and said nowadays, people “know the cost of everything, but the value of nothing.”

With a bankrupt trust fund, transportation and infrastructure projects could grind to a halt.

“We’re going to have to break out of this dysfunctionality and understand that in order to make investments in infrastructure, we are going to have to pay for them,” Connolly said.

A pattern of underinvesting in transportation projects is now hurting the country, Foxx says.

“The bad news is that we’ve been underinvesting in our transportation system and in order to invest at the right levels, we have to figure out a way to get there from a funding perspective and that is a challenge,” Foxx said.

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