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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Foxx announces highway repair fund rationing plan; cities call on Congress to pass transportation funding bill


U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said yesterday that if Congress doesn't pass a plan to fund the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) plans to ration funding to states starting in August.

On the USDOT's "Fast Lane" blog and at a transportation breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor news organization, Foxx said he sent letters to state departments of transportation outlining steps the department will take starting Aug. 1 to limit the funds they receive for infrastructure and transportation expenses.

The HTF is set to run out of money in early August. USDOT sent letters to each state outlining the funding cuts that would start Aug. 1, when the HTF is expected to be too low to cover approved projects.

"On average, states will see a 28 percent drop in federal transportation dollars," Foxx wrote in the blog. "Depending on how they manage the funds, each state will feel the effects differently, but everyone will feel the impact sooner or later."

In addition, Foxx sent letters to transit agency leaders outlining similar concerns for the Mass Transit Account of the HTF, although there is currently "no precise date for implementing cash management procedures" for the account, according to a USDOT press release.

Later yesterday, Foxx told The Christian Science Monitor: "This is a crisis that can be avoided. … [but] this cliff is coming [and] we may find ourselves running over it."

Meanwhile, the National League of Cities (NLC) and 49 municipal leagues on Monday sent a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate transportation committees urging support for local government transportation priorities in the reauthorization of the MAP-21 Act.

"Local governments play a primary role in the nation's transportation network and are a critical link in the intergovernmental partnership that keeps our national economy moving," wrote NLC and municipal leaders.

They noted that across the nation, local governments own 78 percent of the nation's road miles and 50 percent of the nation's bridges, and operate the majority of the nation's transit systems. At the same time, local governments are involved in less than a quarter of the $41 billion in federal funds spent on highways each year and have little say in how federal transportation dollars are invested in our communities.

Specifically, the letter asked Congress to address the following priorities in the next surface transportation funding bill:
• provide local governments with the certainty of a multi-year program so they can plan and fund transportation in their communities by addressing the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund through an increase in the federal gasoline tax or alternative sources of revenue that do not interfere with local government ability to finance local needs;
• Increase the roles for local officials to make decisions about project funding through metropolitan planning organizations and rural planning organizations;
• Fund the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program, incentivize local innovation and preserve the federal tax exemption for municipal bonds;
• Continue MAP-21 provisions that help cities deliver transportation projects quickly, eliminate red tape, and maintain environmental standards; and
• Continue to fund transit programs from federal gas tax revenues and provide discretionary funding for both rural and urban transit systems to address major investments.

The letter was addressed to U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and David Vitter (R-La.), the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee; and U.S. Reps. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 7/2/2014