| WASHINGTON, April 15
WASHINGTON, April 15 The main source of federal
funds for U.S. highway construction and repair will run dry by
the end of August unless Congress acts to replenish it or
bolster its fuel-tax funding mechanism, the Department of
Transportation said on Tuesday.
The Highway Trust Fund, which has seen tax collections from
gasoline and diesel purchases dwindle due to a slow economic
recovery and improved vehicle fuel efficiency, had $8.4 billion
in its road construction account as of March 28, according to
the department's latest update.
"The surface transportation program continues to outlay
(funds) at a greater pace than receipts are coming in," the DOT
said in a statement on its website.
Based on spending projections through the remainder of the
fiscal year, these funds will be exhausted in the last week of
August or first week of September, the department added.
Depletion of the account without a funding solution could
bring major highway and bridge projects to a halt at the height
of the summer road-construction season, idling thousands of
workers, snarling traffic and dealing a blow to the economy.
Congress is expected to turn its attention to the issue when
lawmakers return from a two-week recess on April 28. Current
transportation-funding legislation, which had allowed billions
of dollars in general fund transfers to the highway account, is
due to expire at the end of September.
Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat who chairs the Senate
Appropriations subcommittee on transportation, warned that
funding could reach a critically low level as early as July.
"Today's update from the Department of Transportation should
be a wake-up call to Congress," Murray said in a statement.
"Every day that Congress waits to address this looming crisis,
states will be forced to make difficult planning decisions, as
many already have, to delay projects that improve roads and
bridges in their communities."
A group of Republican and Democratic senators have agreed on
some aspects of new transportation legislation, such as that it
must be in place for a longer period than the two-year extension
that expires on September 30.
But they have yet to resolve the most pressing question of
how to prevent chronic shortfalls in fuel tax collections. The
United States levies 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.4
cents per gallon on diesel to pay for transportation projects,
but fuel use has been lower than projected.
The gas tax was last increased in 1993 and some groups have
advocated a rate increase to keep the fund solvent. But this is
expected to be politically problematic, especially with
congressional elections looming in early November.
President Barack Obama has instead proposed raising new
money by ending some tax breaks for businesses, an idea
unpopular with Republicans, who want any money from closed tax
breaks to lower tax rates.
(Additional reporting by Elvina Nawaguna; Editing by Alden