Va. DOT chief testifies on Hill about need for highway funds

Va. DOT chief testifies on Hill about need for highway funds

All eyes in the transportation community are on Congressional efforts to pass a federal transportation bill and replenish the Highway Trust Fund, which is projected to run out of money as early as August. Virginiaês Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne, Jr., testified before the Senate Finance Committee about the urgent need for federal funding for highways and bridges. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx warned that DOT would have to stop payments to states and 700,000 construction jobs would be lost if Congress didnêt appropriate money for the Highway Trust Fund. A committee in the House of Representatives passed a transportation bill, and a Senate committee chair promises a bill this week.

–While states like Virginia are stepping up and raising revenues, states can only do but so much,” Layne told the Senate Finance Committee. Although 60 percent of the stateês Transportation Trust Fund is dedicated to highway construction and capital repair, money from the federal Highway Trust Fund has helped pay for the I-95 Express Lanes and the Dulles Rail Project. If the Trust Fund is not fortified for 2015, said Layne, 149 bridge replacements would be stopped and 350 other projects would grind to a halt, affecting more than 43,000 jobs in Virginia and across the nation.

–Financing and public-private partnerships are not silver bullets and cannot address many of the pressing transportation needs faced today,” Layne testified. –In fact, without sustainable funding, states cannot take advantage of financing tools and would be unable to partner with the private sector.” The private sector needs to be incentivized for taking on the risk of projects such as reconstructing aging pavements on Interstate highways.

U.S. DOT Secretary Foxx has sent a letter to states warning them that payments would be delayed if Congress does not pass a transportation bill this summer. The current surface transportation measure expires in September.

The Congressional Budget Office said that if Congress wants to continue current spending on road and transportation projects, it has a choice, reports The Hill: Raise the gas tax by 10 to 15 cents a gallon, or allocate $13 billion to $18 billion a year. If Congress wanted to cover the Highway Trust Fund deficit solely by cutting spending, it would not be able to spend any money that hasnêt already been allocated in fiscal years 2015 and 2016.

There is some movement on the Hill. A House Appropriations subcommittee passed a $52 billion transportation, housing and urban development measure — a.k.a. The THUD bill — that has $1.8 billion less than last yearês funding. It is $7.8 billion less than President Obamaês proposal. And the bill leaves questions about highway funding to the authorizing committees. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Cal.), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee, promises that she and her colleagues will have a surface transportation bill ready this week.

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