| WASHINGTON, March 12
WASHINGTON, March 12 U.S. transportation
officials warned lawmakers on Wednesday that dwindling funds for
highway and rail projects may cause delays in work this summer
during the height of the construction season unless they quickly
approve billions of dollars in new funding.
The Highway Trust Fund, which receives money from a federal
tax on every gallon of gasoline and diesel fuel sold in the
United States, is expected to become insolvent by 2015.
Funding for some programs could fall to dangerously low
levels by this summer, forcing the Department of Transportation
to delay payments to states, Peter Rogoff, the department's
acting under secretary for policy testified before Congress.
"If the trust fund were to become insolvent, hundreds of
thousands of jobs across the nation could be at risk and our
ability to address the many road, rail, and transit needs in
every state will be severely impeded," Rogoff said.
The highway segment of the trust fund, he said, could fall
below $4 billion by July and the transit segment could fall
below $1 billion in August. 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 is now lower than
projected as vehicles become more efficient, and that tax is no
longer enough to feed the fund.
Congress has enacted temporary patches allowing money from
the general fund to be transferred to the Highway Trust Fund to
pay for some transportation projects. A temporary measure passed
in 2012 to fund surface transportation projects including roads
and bridges for two years is set to expire on Sept. 30.
Transportation officials and some lawmakers fear that if the
law lapses it could set the United States economy back as costly
infrastructure projects are delayed.
Testifying before the House of Representatives Subcommittee
on Highways and Transit, the officials urged lawmakers to adopt
a long-term funding measure and to authorize the $302 billion
sought in President Barack Obama's 2015 budget proposal that
would fund the transportation projects for another four years.
The Department of Transportation has also warned of a growing
"infrastructure deficit" given the number of major projects that
need to be undertaken, including the repair or replacement of
Some advocates have pushed for an increase in the fuel tax to
keep the trust fund from insolvency, but many lawmakers are
reluctant to raise the taxes. Obama instead has proposed raising
new money by ending some tax breaks for businesses. The gas tax
was last increased in 1993.
Therese McMillan, deputy administrator at the Federal
Transit Administration, said the United States needs to invest
in transit safety, keeping roads in good repair and increasing
capacity in congested urban areas.
"These investments are needed to create the 21st century
public transportation systems our nation deserves and needs to
be competitive," McMillan said.
The pleas come days after the American Public Transport
Association said that ridership on U.S. trains, buses and
commuter rail rose by 1.1 percent in 2013 to 10.7 billion trips,
the highest since 1956. Transit ridership, up 37 percent since
1995, has far outpaced population growth in that time.
The officials testifying on Wednesday, who also included
staff from the Federal Highway Administration and the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said they planned to send
Congress a proposal for the reauthorization of transportation
funding in coming weeks.
(Reporting by Elvina Nawaguna; Editing by Ros Krasny and Lisa