By Senator Barbara Boxer
Chairman, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
July 3, 2014
If you ask the average person on the street if it should be controversial for the federal government to fund transportation projects, of course they would say no. Maintaining and improving our roads, bridges, and transit systems is a necessary investment in our future that was recognized at our country's founding in the Constitution, and has been continued throughout our nation's history. From the establishment of the Interstate Highway System under President Eisenhower in the 1950s, to the construction of a modern transportation system that ensures our global competitiveness today, transportation remains the foundation for a strong U.S. economy.
However, there is still no transportation bill, no funding plan, and as of August 1, there will be insufficient funds to reimburse states, which will result in delayed projects and higher unemployment.
The Highway Trust Fund, which is the major source of funding for our surface transportation system and pays for our highways, bridges, and transit systems, is on the verge of bankruptcy. Congress needs to act now.
The reason we have a problem is that gas tax receipts have not kept pace with inflation or the rising costs of keeping highways and bridges safe.
At the end of this month, the Trust Fund's highway account balance will likely dip below a critical threshold. Without Congressional action, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) will be forced to delay payments to states due to insufficient funds.
The law authorizing our surface transportation programs, MAP-21, expires on September 30 and without action to extend the Highway Trust Fund, all payments to states will stop on October 1. Because of the lack of action, DOT Secretary Foxx recently sent a letter to state DOTs to inform them that the situation is "dire."
This looming transportation shutdown demands immediate action in Congress. Transportation is and should be a nonpartisan issue. As chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I am grateful that my committee did its job and passed a six-year bill, the MAP-21 Reauthorization Act, by a unanimous bipartisan vote, because a long-term bill provides stability and certainty for states, cities, businesses, and workers.
The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), is working to find a way to ensure the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund. He has put forward a responsible plan that would save the Trust Fund for this critical summer construction season and provide enough funding until the end of this year, when we must pass a long-term bill.
Everyone knows that we must act because our surface transportation system is in critical condition and significant funding is needed to simply maintain the current system. Nationwide there are 70,000 bridges that are structurally deficient, and 50 percent of our nation's roads are in less than good condition.
There are thousands of businesses and millions of jobs that are at risk if there is a transportation shutdown, which would have a domino effect throughout the economy.
I still believe we must immediately move forward with a six-year bill. But recognizing the looming bankruptcy of the Highway Trust Fund this summer, the second-best option to protect jobs and keep transportation projects moving forward during this summer construction season is to pass a funding patch for the Highway Trust Fund through December.
Saving the Highway Trust Fund is strongly supported by businesses, labor, and transportation organizations. I was joined by over 20 of these organizations on Capitol Hill at a press conference last month to urge immediate action to address this crisis.
Doing so should be strongly supported by all members of Congress because the failure to pass a transportation funding plan would lead to job losses and transportation projects being halted in every state across the country.
We must put politics aside and work together to pass a long-term transportation bill with a sustainable funding solution before the end of this Congress. A further delay extends the uncertainty. We must give states, local governments and businesses the stability they need to make critical investments in our infrastructure. Failure is not an option.
This op-ed appeared in The Hill on July 3, 2014.