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DOT: Highway Fund Solvent, Still Urgent

Monday, September 14, 2015

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Money for highway projects will last longer than federal transportation officials projected, but the secretary for the Department of Transportation has said that does not make ongoing issues with the Highway Trust Fund any less urgent.

The DOT posted an update to its Highway Trust Fund Ticker on Aug. 20. It said that money should last through third quarter of fiscal year 2016—which means the money would run out sometime in June of next year.

As The Hill noted on Sept. 8, that projection is six months longer than previously expected. It also is nearly 11 months longer than what the DOT thought could be available when it first started the ticker in July.

Current Temporary Fix

An $8 million extension Congress passed in July was expected to give the struggling fund only enough money to last through December. But with the pace of construction slowing as the end of the year approaches, the DOT now says it thinks those dollars will last a bit longer.

DOT

The Department of Transportation posted an update to its Highway Trust Fund Ticker on Aug. 20 indicating that the agency will have enough money for highway projects through June 2016.

But even if the Highway Trust Fund has more solvency than thought, the fund—which is used for new Federal Highway Administration projects and to reimburse states for those projects—still will need a new authorization by Oct. 29 in order to pay some of the bills past that date.

“Although sufficient balances exist in the Highway Trust Fund to maintain solvency through the third quarter of FY 2016, an October 29th lapse in authorization prevents new obligations in Highway and Transit programs and impacts reimbursements to States,” the agency wrote.

The current surface transportation authorization, known as MAP-21, expires that day. Originally signed into law on July 6, 2012, it was the first long-term highway authorization enacted since 2006. However, including the July 30 extension, the authorization also has had 34 short-term fixes since it was enacted.

Seeking Long-Term

That’s one reason why DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx has said lawmakers should not wait to develop a long-term solution to the highway funding problem.

DOT

DOT Secretary Anthony Fox, seen promoting the Obama Administration's $478 billion GROW AMERICA plan, has said that longer solvency does not mean less urgency in highway funding woes.

“I don’t think [the greater solvency] changes anything in terms of the urgency of solving this problem, though—because even if you take as a given that the funds will extend into June of next year, think about what that means in terms of the construction season,” the secretary told Politico on Sept. 9.

“That’s right at the beginning of the construction season, and the DOTs around the country will begin developing their plans of work in the winter, in December and January.”

A ‘Miracle’ if it Happens?

As Politico noted, that means the states will need to know within the next few months how much federal money they can expect to receive. The magazine also said in its Sept. 10 transportation round-up that seeing a long-term extension this year might be somewhat of a “miracle.”

The chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee told the Washington Examiner on Sept. 9 that Congress may have to stick with the short-term patches that it has used since 2012 before Congress ends its session in 23 days.

“We are going to have to do a short term extension … on [Federal Aviation Administration funding] and probably on the highway [fund],” said Rep. Bill Shuster, who is a Republican from Pennsylvania.

Plans on the Table

The Senate already has passed a $350 billion, six-year plan. The plan would replenish the Highway Trust Fund for three years using $45 billion in revenue increases and budget cuts elsewhere.

©iStock.com /  RapidEye

The current highway spending authorization, known as MAP-21, is in its 34th extension since first being passed in 2012. Without Congressional intervention, the extension will expire on Oct. 29.

Shuster said that the House has been discussing a similar plan, but that its plan is not identical to the Senate’s

“Hopefully, we’ll get some better stuff in there,” he told the Examiner.

Exactly what “stuff” that is remains somewhat unknown. Several bill proposals that included gas tax increases and a variety of other funding sources came from both Republicans and Democrats earlier this year. The Obama Administration also has its own plan, which the Department of Transportation still supports.

In the GROW AMERICA plan, $478 billion would be invested in modernizing American infrastructure over the next six years. Overall, it would be a 45 percent increased investment in transportation, the DOT has said.

   

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

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