Some transportation leaders frustrated by temporary federal funding plan

Frederick News-Post (MD), 2014-08-11

Aug. 11 --The nation's Highway Trust Fund will remain solvent for now, but many transportation leaders are calling for a long-term road funding plan.

The federal government late last month passed legislation to keep the Highway Trust Fund going through May of next year.

Associated Equipment Distributors , an international trade association of companies that distribute heavy machinery, called passage of the funding bill "no reason to celebrate."

"By waiting until the last minute to solve a problem we've known for years was coming, Congress brought the highway program and the construction industry to the brink of disaster," CEO Brian McGuire said in a statement. "We hope this exercise has underscored to everyone on Capitol Hill that the Highway Trust Fund is in dire shape and needs additional revenues, be it from a gas tax increase or some other source."

Uncertainty in transportation funding on the federal scale has the potential to delay the reimbursement process for local jurisdictions, according to TransIT Services director Nancy Norris .

TransIT receives a grant from the state at the beginning of each fiscal year that commits an amount of federal and state dollars to the transit system. Frederick County's transit system is funded by the local jurisdictions, which are reimbursed 50 percent by the federal government and 25 percent by the state.

If the highway fund were to become insolvent, delays in those federal reimbursements could potentially disrupt local operations.

The Maryland Department of Transportation is in a better position to continue highway and transit programs as a result of the Transportation Investment Act of 2013, according to spokesman David Buck .

MDOT projects already underway, funded by federal dollars at a rate of 30 percent, would have been able to continue even if the funding bill had not passed in July, Buck said.

A national infrastructure advocacy group, Building America's Future, called for a long-term solution.

While Ray LaHood , BAF co-chairman and former U.S. secretary of transportation, said he was pleased by the temporary funding, there was room to improve.

"These short-term fixes are just plain short-sighted," he wrote. "The strength of our nation's economy rests on Congress finding a long-term solution so we can repair and modernize our roads, rails and bridges for the long haul."

Public split on transportation funding

Many transportation leaders recognize the need for a long-term highway funding strategy, but the public appears unsure of the best way to raise money for roads, according to an Associated Press poll.

In the transportation world, there seems to be a general consensus that the fuel tax is no longer a sustainable way to fund road projects. The demand-based model is not sufficient with the current trend of people driving less in more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Moreover, increasing the federal fuel tax was generally unpopular. The survey found 58 percent of the 1,044 people polled were opposed to raising the federal gasoline tax, while just 14 percent supported the idea.

Transportation planners have been batting around several alternatives for road funding. In Virginia , a portion of road funds now comes out of the sales tax. Some people have supported charging motorists a tax per mile driven.

About 30 percent of respondents said the federal government should turn responsibility for road projects over to local governments, while 20 percent supported replacing the fuel tax with a tax based on how many miles a car is driven. About 22 and 40 percent opposed those respective ideas.

Having private companies build roads in exchange for the right to charge tolls garnered the support of 17 percent of respondents, and the idea was opposed by 46 percent.

Follow Kelsi Loos on Twitter : @KelsiFNP.


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