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Welch Calls For Long-Term Funding To Highway Trust Fund

Jo Naylor/Flickr

As the nation’s Highway Trust Fund teeters on the brink of insolvency, Vermont Congressman Peter Welch is joining calls for reauthorization and a long-term funding solution.

The federal Highway Trust Fund will become insolvent at the end of August if Congress does not act to replenish it. The money is used to reimburse states for infrastructure work. To highlight the need for his peers to act, Congressman Peter Welch on Monday stood below a highway bridge sporting a sign reading “Watch for Falling Concrete.” Welch recounted that the highway engineer said repairs now will be expensive, but if we wait, costs will escalate even further. Welch rebuked his colleagues for not moving to restore funding to the Highway Trust Fund.  "This highway bill is an indication of Congressional dysfunction where we are just kicking the can down the road and putting things off when we know we have to act. It’s creating real hardship for our transportation agencies. You can’t plan and if you can’t plan you can’t do the work when it needs to be done. And there’s really no excuse for this."

The Vermont Agency of Transportation released a list of more than 50 road, bridge and rail projects that could be delayed if the Highway Trust Fund becomes insolvent. Vermont Secretary of Transportation Brian Searles says that would stop federal money for state transportation projects and any work that is occurring.  "We pay our bills, pay our contractors and so on and then are reimbursed for the federal share. The federal share in Vermont’s case is around 80%. So if there’s some reduction in the federal share then that becomes a real problem for us because we either have to stop or slow our construction activity.”

In New York, the Capital Region gets $1.7 billion annually to maintain and build highways from the trust fund, according to New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer. He is among those pushing for Congressional action.  "The Highway Trust fund is about to run out of money. There’s a group of people who don’t want to fund it. We have to stop them. To let it expire immediately over 10,000 people in the Capital Region would be laid off and that would be horrible. Now I’d prefer it be renewed on a long term basis. To do this every six months or every year doesn’t allow our highway people to plan and do long term projects. But the worst case scenario would be to let it run out and throw these people out of work and just stop things and have them come to a screeching halt.”

Congressman Welch wants a long-term solution rather than the temporary fix Congress is likely to pass.  "It's not as though there’ll be new information available in April or May. We know the state of disrepair of our roads and bridges and we know that we need a sustainable funding source. So why Congress won’t bite the bullet and make whatever hard decision it has to about a sustainable funding source is just an indication of dysfunction.”  Welch was asked what funding source he would suggest for the Highway Trust Fund.  “Well, I’ve told Speaker Boehner that he can count on me to vote for any sustainable funding source. Corporate tax reform is something I certainly support. Frankly the gas tax hasn’t been raised federally since 1993, that could be on the table. But it really is the Speaker’s job to decide whether to put that bill on the floor. He’s decided not to.”

Congressman Welch voted no to the short-term authorization offered in the House on Tuesday.