States feel pinch as Highway Trust Fund shortfall threatens
Last week, I swung through three states in two days, hopping from Kentucky to Rhode Island and then down the I-95 corridor to Connecticut.
Drivers in these states, like drivers in so many others, know their roads and bridges are in need of investment. In Kentucky, almost a third of the roads are rated in poor or mediocre condition. And in Connecticut and Rhode Island, close to three-quarters of the bridges are structurally obsolete. Twenty-mile backups on I-95 are all too common in those states.
I wish I could say I was visiting those states to off help, asking their governors, “What more can the federal government do? Where can we invest more in your bridges? How about your roads? Your transit systems?”
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to ask those questions.
Due to inaction in Congress, I was forced to deliver an entirely different message: “Soon, you won’t be receiving more transportation funding –you’ll be receiving less.”
If you’ve been reading this blog during the past year, you know that our Highway Trust Fund is on its way to insolvency –and you might have heard that last week our Department announced the steps we’ll have to take when the fund drops below a safe level in early August.
For all states --including Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Kentucky-- this means we’ll have to stop reimbursing them as they send in their bills for transportation projects. Instead, we’ll begin a new process of slower and lower payments, which I wrote about here last week.
The approach we’re taking is a fair way to distribute whatever’s left in the Highway Trust Fund. But that doesn’t mean it‘s a good one. There isn’t a “good” option in this situation, and on average, states will see a 28 percent cut in their federal highway funding.
Even worse, it might take years, even decades, to feel the full damage of insolvency. If states don’t know if federal funding will be available –or how much– they’ll start to pull projects off the books and halt construction.
This weekend, the Mississippi DOT announced that, "In the event Congress does not add revenue to the Highway Trust Fund, it will be necessary to pull all state-funded maintenance projects open for bid in July."
And Missouri has already stopped tackling projects that add capacity and help us prepare for a more populous nation that ships more goods. This means that, two generations down the line –when America is home to 100 million more people and has to move twice the amount of freight– there won’t be enough good routes of transportation to do it. In other words, when our grandkids are stuck in day-long traffic jams and stuck with an economy that can’t deliver the goods, they’ll be blaming us.
Unless Congress acts now.
The GROW AMERICA Act we sent to Capitol Hill in May is still on the table. And other bills have been proposed. If Congress passes a sound transportation bill, we won’t just avoid an insolvent Highway Trust Fund; we’ll grow the fund and be able to help not just Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Kentucky, but all of America fully prepare for our future.