DOT chief to Congress: Make highway bill ‘count’

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx pushed Congress to approve a long-term infrastructure bill just a couple of blocks away from their doorstep.

Foxx wrapped up a weeklong bus tour pushing for the Obama administration’s $478 billion transportation bill with an appearance at Washington’s Union Station with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman.

The Transportation secretary said lawmakers should pass a large increase of federal infrastructure funding instead of a temporary extension of current funding levels.

“If we’re going to go through the trouble of find new resources, my message is let’s make it count,” Foxx said.

The D.C. appearance is the conclusion of a bus tour that took Foxx from Florida to Virginia as he pushed for an administration proposal that 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.

The Department of Transportation has warned that its Highway Trust Fund will run out of money on May 31 unless Congress acts to replenish it.

Lawmakers have begun considering a new transportation bill, but they have struggled to come up with a way to pay for the infrastructure spending beyond revenue collected from the federal gas tax, which is 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 Friday that it was imperative for Congress to pass a long-term transportation bill, whatever funding mechanism it chooses.

“There’s no excuse for a highway or a bridge in Maryland to have concrete crumbling onto the roadway below,” he said in reference to a recent incident on the Beltway highway that encircles Washington, D.C.

“There’s no excuse for a country as mighty as America to have inter-city passenger rail systems in Europe and China and Japan more advanced than our own,” Foxx continued. “There’s no excuse for a country that is growing by 70 million people over the next 30 years not to be building for that future.”

Bowser vowed to help Foxx attempt to convince Congress to increase transportation funding this.

“Washingtonians appreciate the importance of investing in America’s infrastructure and the need for a long-term transportation bill,” she said.

Bowser added that Foxx picked a fitting final destination for the conclusion of his bus trip in Washington’s Union Station.

“Union Station was built over 100 years,” she said. “It remains a vital part of our country’s rail transportation system. … Union Station’s successes highlight the importance of maintaining the nation’s infrastructure.”