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After many months of negotiation, today the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is sitting down to mark-up a new transportation authorization and funding bill, known as the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015. Going into mark-up, the bill authorizes $325 billion in transportation funding over the next six years, and would fund the nation’s Highway Trust Fund and Mass Transit accounts. Roughly 80 percent of the funds, or $261 billion will go to highways, 17 percent, or $55 billion will go to public transit, and the remaining three percent, or $9 billion will go to safety programs. While the bill purports to identify funding for six years, it is anticipated that the House will only provide funding for the first three, requiring Congress to identify a new source of funding at the end of 2018.
“While it’s great the House is making progress towards a long-term plan for funding our nation’s infrastructure, this bill, as it currently stands, still falls short of offering the American public a sustainable solution to funding our transportation needs,” said John Olivieri, National Campaign Director for 21st Century Transportation at the United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG). While the bill authorizes six years of funding, the House has yet to identify how exactly it would be paid for. Currently, transportation funding receives approximately $50 billion in annual support, yet gas tax revenues account for only $34 billion, leaving a roughly $16 billion annual shortfall. Congress has been reluctant to raise the federal gas tax, but has so far been unable to identify a sustainable funding stream.
“When it comes to transportation, our nation needs at least two things; more funding for critical transportation infrastructure needs, particularly with regard to public transit, and a commitment to reforming our broken transportation system, so that it provides a long-term sustainable funding mechanism. This bill, so far, does neither,” said Olivieri. “Beyond that, it is also important that we give local communities more control over transportation dollars, which is critical to meeting their specific needs. Whether it is repair of local roads, increasing the reach of transit, or making streets safer for biking and walking, it is important these needs are met.”
Representatives Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Dina Titus (D-NV) were set to propose an amendment that would do this very thing, though latest information suggests that it has now been withdrawn. According to information made publically available by Transportation for America, The Davis-Titus amendment would have provided more flexible funds overall, increasing the amount of funding in the federal Surface Transportation Program (STP), the most flexible transportation dollars available. It would also have sent more money directly to local communities, and helped smaller localities with less than 200,000 people have more certainty over how the funds reserved for their certain areas would be spent. However, the amendment is expected to make another appearance as the process the process continues.
The bill comes at a time when across the United States, there are just over 61,000 structurally deficient bridges, and scores of needed transportation projects stuck on the drawing board.
The United States Public Interest Research Group Education Fund has authored a series of reports on America’s transportation needs, and the state of our broken transportation finance system. One such report, “Highway Boondoggles: Wasted Money and America’s Transportation,” identifies 11 of the most wasteful highway projects across the country that collectively cost $13 billion in taxpayer dollars.
Another recent report entitled “Who Pays for Roads?,” found that drivers pay less than half of the total cost of roads, and explores how the “user-pay” myth gets in the way of solving America’s transportation problems.
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