AASHTO president emphasizes urgency to extend
More than 500,000 jobs and countless state and local projects to modernize and improve transportation across the U.S. are in jeopardy, according to state transportation officials. At a news conference Tuesday (Aug. 23) , Susan Martinovich, director of the Nevada Department of Transportation and president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, along with several top officials of state transportation departments, sent an urgent message to Congress.
"We're here today to sound the alarm," Martinovich said. "Congress must take action by September 30th, or the federal highway and transit programs that support thousands of jobs in every state will shut down."
Martinovich and others attending the annual meeting of the Southeastern Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials outlined two critical actions that must be taken by Congress before the seventh extension of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) legislation expires on September 30.
First, Congress must extend the 18.4-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax that provides the revenue to fund federal highway and transit programs. Second, it must pass a long-term reauthorization of those programs funded at the highest level possible.
"The federal government provides about $42 billion for highways and $11 billion for transit to states annually," Martinovich said. "Sustaining this investment is imperative. Should Congress decide to reduce the program by one-third as some have proposed, it would mean the cancellation of hundreds of job-creating projects that are essential to America's economic recovery."
Mike Hancock, SASHTO president and Kentucky transportation secretary said, "Kentucky has $447 million in Federal-aid highway construction and repair projects ready for bidding over the next four months, so its imperative that congress act to prevent the nation's federal surface transportation program from expiring."
The Kentucky projects include the next phase of the long-awaited and badly needed widening of Interstate 65, replacement of numerous deficient bridges, and rehabilitation of pavement on multiple interstate routes, including heavily traveled I-471 in northern Kentucky.
"We urgently need for Congress to pass a reauthorization bill - one that sustains funding at current levels and adjusts revenues for inflation," Hancock said. "States need certainty. Effective planning is impossible otherwise. Without reauthorization, projects will have to be dramatically slowed, with a moratorium on new projects, because the state cannot carry federal-aid projects on its own."
Federal highway funding is actually a reimbursement arrangement. States first put up their own money, and then are paid back by the Federal Highway Administration from the Federal Highway Trust Fund. Kentucky has 2,200 federal-aid projects already under way. Kentucky will bill FHWA for $72 million in reimbursements in October alone and $186 million for October through December.
Time is running out. When Congress reconvenes in September, it has only 11 legislative days to take action.
Martinovich urged state transportation officials across the country to communicate with their members of Congress during this month-long congressional break when members are back in their home states.
"There is so much at stake," Martinovich said. "Commuters will sit in more congestion because new projects to expand lanes or make interchanges safer will not be built. Buses will be more crowded because fewer dollars will be available to repair and replace our aging fleet. The clock is ticking."