With a crucial deadline coming up, politicians from the Democratic Party are calling on their Republican colleagues for collaboration and to reach a bi-partisan agreement to avoid a self-inflicted highway shutdown.
The Highway Trust Fund will run out of money in August because tax revenues have not kept pace with spending over the years. It will have to operate on a cash basis provided that no bill or Congressional action is taken in Washington DC.
“(There will be a) nearly 30 percent reduction in federal highway spending (on August 1) just as we hit the peak of the summer construction season. It is very unfortunate for the economy and a sign of unnecessary partisan[ship] and gridlock in Washington,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) during a conference call that was aimed at urging Republicans to take swift action to avert a “transportation construction shutdown”.
The trust fund’s regular revenues come from taxes on gasoline, diesel fuel and certain vehicles. Recently, legislators have also approved transfers from other government accounts.
The US Senate on Environment and Public Works has passed a bi-partisan highway bill that will last for six years and will spend $265 billion to keep the Highway Trust Fund going, according to Senator Whitehouse, who also chairs the committee.
“It’s now in the hands of the finance committee to figure out how to pay for that,” Senator Whitehouse said.
Nonetheless, a short-term fix is not enough as it will make it hard for state transportation officials to obligate contracts that require long-term investment. “So even that will have an effect on our highway programme,” said Senator Whitehouse.
Moreover, a failure to replenish the Highway Trust Fund would also mean a lot of construction projects depending on federal spending will get shelved without even getting started, according to former Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell, who is also the co-chair of Building America’s Future, along with former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York and Ray LaHood, the former Obama administration Transportation Secretary who was a Republican House member.
“We need a long-term transportation infrastructure fund to remain economically competitive and [ensure] public safety,” said Rendell, after giving an example of how US highway I-95 has been badly interrupted by an almost entire failure of bridges over I-495, one of the bypasses of I-95.
An ongoing highway programme will also translate into middle-class jobs, according to Rendell.
“We should be creating middle-class jobs and one of the great things about infrastructure jobs is that these are the epitome of middle-class jobs,” said Rendell.