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U.S. House passes relief package for 'busted' Highway Trust Fund


Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an $8 billion Highway Trust Fund
relief package. The bill passed by a vote of 387 to 37.

Dedicated to maintaining and improving U.S. highways and transit systems, the trust fund is on track to run out of money within a year. The Highway Trust Fund Restoration Act (H.R. 6532) aims to transfer — actually, restore — $8 billion from the General Fund to the Highway Trust Fund, which currently depends on gasoline and diesel fuel taxes.

In response to concerns that the Trust Fund balance was too high, Congress transferred $8 billion from the Trust Fund to the General Fund in 1998. But now, as soaring gas prices prompt people to drive less, and as cars become more fuel-efficient, less money is coming into the Trust Fund.

"The Highway Trust Fund is busted, and it's busted for several reasons," said U.S. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Republican Leader and co-sponsor of the legislation, in a prepared statement. "The mechanism for financing highway and transit projects is obsolete. In the long term, Congress must address this problem when we reauthorize the current highway bill. In the short term, however, our only option is to pass this legislation and make sure the Highway Trust Fund remains sound and we avoid a transportation crisis."

Failure to pass H.R. 6532 could trigger a $14 billion cut in highway funding, and "every state across the country will be forced to start closing down transportation projects," Mica said, adding that 380,000 jobs could be lost.

"At a time when our economy continues to struggle, we can not afford to cut federal funding for highway projects," said U.S. Rep. John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.), the House Highways and Transit Subcommittee's ranking member.

Highway Trust Fund estimates — which could be released this week — are expected to show a shortfall of between $5 billion and $6 billion by 2009's end.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 7/24/2008