Advocates Call On Congress To Pass Transportation Funding Bill

May 19, 2015

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Most of us take bridges for granted, but experts warn that by and large, the nation’s bridges and other infrastructure is in bad shape. WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley has more on a new report on rural roads and bridges.

Last August, Congress approved an extension of funding to the Highway Transportation Fund until the end of May.  A proposal had been put forth to again extend its spending authority until the end of the year, but recent legislation introduces a July cutoff date.  

That has a number of transportation and business advocates concerned.

TRIP is a non-profit transportation research organization based in Washington D.C. and supported by a number of transportation organizations.  It has released a report called “Rural Connections: Challenges and Opportunities in America’s Heartland” that evaluates the condition of rural roads across the nation.  Director of Policy and Research Rocky Moretti: “Rural Americans are generally more reliant on their transportation system than their urban counterparts.  If you look at the economy of rural America it’s highly reliant on agriculture, increasingly on energy extraction and also manufacturing. These are all sectors are very reliant on a good transportation system.”

The report finds that in New York 37 percent of major local and state maintained urban roads and highways are in poor condition.  Thirteen percent of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient and 27 percent are functionally obsolete.  The average driver in the Albany area loses $504 annually due to repairs, additional fuel consumption, and tire wear from driving on rough roads.

Twenty-five percent of Connecticut’s and 24 percent of Vermont’s roads were rated poor – placing them in the top 20 states for that ranking.  In Massachusetts 72 percent of rural roads are considered mediocre and 7 percent are in poor condition according to the TRIP report.

The groups on Tuesday called on Congress to fund and extend the Highway Trust Fund.

AAA Vice President of Public Affairs Kathleen Bower emphasized that however unpalatable the federal gas tax, which has not changed since 1993, must be raised.   “The Highway Trust Fund needs $15 billion more per year just to maintain a flat level of funding.  The civil engineers recently said that we need 3.6 trillion by 2020 just to get the system up to a B.  What we have supported and what we think is necessary is 12 to 15 cents more for the gas tax spread out over about three years.”

Speaking to WAMC’s Alan Chartock on the Congressional Corner, Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern says the nation’s transportation infrastructure is crumbling yet Congress is not investing in the critical resource.  “What Congress needs to do is pass a long-term adequately funded transportation bill and let’s fix everything. You know in Massachusetts we have bridges that are older than most of the other states in this country.  All of these reports that come out over and over and over again that tell us how deficient our infrastructure is and yet we’re in Congress and we can’t even get the committee of jurisdiction to report out a transportation bill. The only way to fix this is to invest in it.”