DOT chief pushes highway bill at bus tour stops

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is pushing the Obama administration’s $478 billion transportation bill proposal on his bus tour this week.

Foxx said in a blog post on the department’s website that incomplete construction projects he saw in Tallahassee and Jacksonville, Fla., showed the necessity of the administration’s infrastructure funding proposal.

“After leaving Tallahassee this morning, the GROW AMERICA Express went to Jacksonville, Florida, where we saw first-hand the work on the I-95 Overland Bridge Replacement Project,” he wrote.

“This impressive project is about half-finished, and anyone who sees it can’t help but be enthusiastic about the improvements being made to America’s transportation system,” Foxx continued. “For more of these sorts of projects, however, long-term transportation funding is needed.”

The proposal calls for spending nearly $80 billion per year on road and transit projects over the next six years. The figure is a large increase over the approximately $50 billion per year that is currently being spent by the federal government on infrastructure improvements.

Lawmakers have begun considering a new transportation bill with the current measure set to expire in May. They have struggled to come up with a pay for the infrastructure spending beyond revenue that is collected from the federal gas tax, however, which is at 18.4 cents per gallon.

The gas tax has been the traditional source of transportation funding for decades, but it has not been increased since 1993 and has struggled in recent years to keep pace with rising construction costs as cars have become more fuel efficient.

The gas tax brings in approximately $34 billion at its current rate, resulting in a nearly $16 billion annual shortfall in transportation funding before an increase like the administration’s proposal is even considered.

Transportation advocates have pushed for an increase in the gas tax to boost infrastructure funding, but the Obama administration has said it would prefer using revenue from taxingoverseas corporate profits to pay for new construction projects.

Foxx said projects like the Interstate 95 bridge in Jacksonville depend on Congress to come up with a way to increase infrastructure spending, however they choose to pay for it.

“At $196 million in construction costs alone, the project — which relies on $73 million in federal funding — is considered the largest highway construction effort in northeast Florida’s history,” he wrote about the bridge project, which has says will impact 150,000 drivers per day.

Foxx said the Florida Department of Transportation was doing an admiral job trying to complete the bridge project and others without relying on federal assistance, but he said it was incumbent upon lawmakers to provide reliable infrastructure funding to state and local governments.

“The Florida DOT is setting the pace for other states in which transportation infrastructure improvements are being challenged by a mountain of budget shortfalls,” he wrote. “With limited funds, state transportation leaders are increasingly forced to make tough choices about which projects to advance, and frequently pursue the smaller, more affordable ones … leaving large-scale projects to wait.

“But the people of this country have been waiting long enough,” Foxx continued. “The time for widespread transportation improvements is now. If Congress will act, states will have the long-term guarantee of additional funding — $478 billion over six years. Never has so much been invested in America’s roads, because never has the need been greater.”

The current transportation funding measure, which includes about $11 billion in infrastructure funding, is scheduled to expire on May 31.

Foxx is scheduled to visit South Carolina with Vice President Biden Wednesday for the next stops on his infrastructure bus tour.