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Highway Trust Fund Set to Go Broke

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

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WASHINGTON--The American public once again has a ringside seat as the federal Highway Trust Fund bleeds out, and state transportation officials have been put on notice that that day is near.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx sent letters Tuesday (July 14) to every state Department of Transportation, warning that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will have no money for new projects or reimbursements as of Aug. 1.

That is the day that the current surface transportation authorization, known as MAP-21, is set to expire.

Tennessee DOT

Federal funding for roads and bridges "will come to a screeching halt" when the Highway Trust Fund goes broke, U.S. DOT is warning. Tennessee's I-40 bridge rehab was just one example of the "critical, and expensive, infrastructure needs we are facing,"  TDOT Commissioner Gerald Nicely said in 2009.

After that, the Highway Trust Fund's Highway Account, which funds road and bridge projects, will drop below the $4 billion threshold that triggers federal "cash management procedures" and delayed reimbursements to the states for their projects.

What It Means

What then?

“FHWA will not have the authority to provide project sponsors with any additional contract authority for new or ongoing projects,” the Secretary wrote.  “Similarly, FHWA will be required to furlough employees, which means your agency will cease having access to personnel who assist with all highway projects, not just with processing payments, but also project approvals, environmental actions and permitting, authorizations for new projects and modifications to existing projects, technical assistance and other vital activities we all rely on FHWA to conduct.” - See more at:

“FHWA will not have the authority to provide project sponsors with any additional contract authority for new or ongoing projects,” Foxx wrote to the state DOT directors.

“Similarly, FHWA will be required to furlough employees, which means your agency will cease having access to personnel who assist with all highway projects, not just with processing payments, but also project approvals, environmental actions and permitting, authorizations for new projects and modifications to existing projects, technical assistance and other vital activities we all rely on FHWA to conduct.”


The $9.2 billion federal Highway Trust Fund Highway Account for FY 2015 is almost gone.

Or, as DOT remarks in a new Fact Sheet on the funding crisis: "Without action from Congress, federal funding for transportation will come to a screeching halt. And with it, so will traffic in many places across the country."

That is because all of those holdups, stalled decisions and cutbacks will land smack in the middle of the summer construction season, U.S. DOT notes.

Tale of the Ticker

The Highway Trust Fund's Highway Account began FY 2015 with about $9.2 billion in cash; the Mass Transit Account began with about $3.5 billion.

The Highway Fund is on track to go broke by the first week of September; the Mass Transit Account, by early October, U.S. DOT said.


The federal Highway Trust Fund Mass Transit Account will be gone by early October, officials warn.

As it did last year, the U.S. DOT has issued a Highway Trust Fund ticker to alert the public to the fund's impending insolvency.

Proposals in the Pipeline

MAP-21, the current funding authorization, was signed in 2012. At that time, it was the first long-term highway funding bill enacted since 2005.

In the past six years, Congress has passed 33 short-term measures rather than commit to another multiyear plan. The latest patch was the "Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2015" (H.R. 2353), which President Obama signed May 29, giving the Trust Fund its current two-month reprieve.

Critics, from both major parties, say the United States cannot continue to address longterm infrastructure needs with short-term funding.

Several funding proposals are currently in the mix.

Earlier this year, the Obama Administration sent Congress a six-year, $478 billion funding plan called the GROW AMERICA Act. The Administration offers a state-by-state look at the GROW AMERICA plan, and Foxx has been promoting the proposal with a nationwide bus tour.

U.S. DOT is making its case for a longterm surface transportation bill.

In April, Rep. James B. Renacci (R-OH) introduced a bill to increase the federal gas tax to keep up with inflation. The Bridge to Sustainable Infrastructure Act (H.R. 1846) immediately drew a bipartisan list of co-sponsors, but there has been no action on the bill since then.

Then there's Sen. Bernie Sanders' "Rebuild America Act of 2015," a 10-year, $1 trillion measure introduced in February and supported by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It, too, has gone nowhere.

'Dire Stait of Disrepair'

ASCE's famous "Report Card for America's Infrastructure," last issued in 2013, provides most of the data for the infrastructure debate.

Recently, in an effort to bolster its case as the Trust Fund clock ticks down, U.S. DOT highlighted some of the 2013 Report Card by issuing 50 Fact Sheets that offer a state-by-state look at current conditions.

"It's not a pretty picture," Foxx blogged on Thursday (July 9).


Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx has been on a nationwide bus tour to promote the Obama Administration's GROW AMERICA six-year surface transportation bill.

Nationwide, he wrote:

  • 65 percent of U.S. roads "are rated in less-than-good condition";
  • One-quarter of bridges "either require significant repair or can't handle today's traffic"; and
  • 45 percent of Americans lack access to public transit.

By the State

Individual state snapshots paint a picture even more dire, according to DOT and ASCE:

  • Seventy percent or more of the roads in Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Wisconsin are in poor or mediocre condtion;
  • One-third or more of bridges in Connecticut (34.9 percent), Hawaii (43.9 percent), Massachusetts (52.5 percent), New Jersey (35.5 percent), New York (38.8 percent), Pennsylvania (42.2 percent), Rhode Island (56.5 percent), Vermont (33.1 percent) and West Virginia (35.3 percent) are considered structurally deficient; and
  • The annual additional vehicle repair tab for motorists driving on bad roads tops $400 in California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Crossing the Bridge

In pushing for GROW AMERICA, Foxx urged Congress not to "kick the can down the road a 34th time."

"It's time to stop saying, 'We'll cross that bridge when we come to it,'" he writes.

"Now, it's time to come to that bridge, and invest in it, so we can cross it ... safely, efficiently, and confidently."


Tagged categories: Bridges; Department of Transportation (DOT); Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Government; Government contracts; North America; President Obama; Program/Project Management; Rehabilitation/Repair; Roads/Highways

Comment from jim dolan, (7/15/2015, 1:14 PM)

Boy, us taxpayers sure have screwed this one up. I hope we learn to spend our money more intelligently in the future. Maybe we should entrust it to more competent than ourselves, like the government. Oh, wait.....................

Comment from Mark Bowen, (7/16/2015, 12:33 PM)

45% of Americans don't have access to public transportation? 80% of Americans never use it. If the "trust" fund was used for what the public trusted the government to use it for, the problem would not be so severe. Citizens get tired of seeing full-sized busses burning gas and running around empty.

Comment from Vernon Benjamin, (7/16/2015, 1:38 PM)

Yes, increase the federal gas tax; yes, through a trillion at it to take care of it for the next twenty years; yes, long-term versus short-term, and--another yes--return to member item opportunities to fund special projects so that the maneuvering and logrolling attendant upon big bills like this are minimized.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (7/17/2015, 8:27 AM)

Mark - public transportation being "available" in many locations means there is a bus once every hour or two. To get where you want to go, you might need to do a transfer or two - using another bus that only comes every hour or two. Only a few cities (NYC, Chicago, parts of DC) have reliable public transport where you don't have to pre-plan the timing of your trip - you show up, and your transport arrives in a relatively short amount of time. Austin's $100,000,000+ train line (using existing tracks) started out like this. Ran about once an hour, during "commuter" times only, with a 4+ hour shutdown in the middle of the day. Need to go home because your kid got sick? No train for you until nearly 3PM. It's gotten better, but there is still usually a ~45 minute gap between trains. And it's SLOW. The bus is faster. Again, it's gotten better over time. Compare that to the New York subway - during peak times you have a train about every 5 minutes. During "off" times (late at night) you might wait 20 minutes. And the subway is often the fastest possible transport.

Comment from Joe Miller, (7/17/2015, 11:11 AM)

Are there ways to improve traffic safety, reduce accidents and fatalities at lower costs than new asphalt overlays or "white-topping" with new concrete? Yes there are. One possible way is to coat our roads and bridge decks with an epoxy and while it is still wet embed calcined bauxite aggregates into the wet resin coating. Sometimes its called Anti-Skid and sometimes its called High Friction Surface Treatments. Under either name the Federal Highway Administration Reports it can be up to 90% effective in reducing accidents and fatalities in critical areas such as flat, sharp or steep curves, dangerous intersections, hilly road ways or ramps. And do it quicker, at lower costs than many other methods or treatments. If you have ever been driving on a steep hill and had to stop at an intersection you apply your brakes and discover that the roadway has alayer of ice that formed as the air temps dropped suddenly (I have in Ohio on my way to the Youngstown Airport) you know that improved traction and skid resistance can mean the difference between stopping and sliding through that intersection and maybe getting into a traffic accident. This type of work may not be for everyone but improving safety for pedestrians and drivers at lower costs may be a worthwhile bit of work to consider for some Painting Contractors.

Comment from Billy Russell, (7/17/2015, 6:45 PM)

This fund is going Broke along with SSN, Medicade ACA keep Borrowing money to send to rebuild other countries while we go Broke trying to support 100 million people not working great plan for the future Democrats .

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