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Temporary fix for highways in the works

highwayAs the Highway Trust Fund nears insolvency in the coming weeks, the House has passed a bill that will extend funding for about 10 months.

The $11 million extension will temporarily avoid the uncertainty in funding for major surface infrastructure projects, but a long term fix is desperately needed.

With Congress approaching its summer recess, the Senate is only expected to pass the House’s version of the bill.

The Highway Trust Fund is the primary source of funding for surface infrastructure construction and repair projects, and was a major focus in the Partnership’s inaugural Transportation Summit in May.

Speakers like Janet Kavinoky, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Director of Transportation & Infrastructure, and Gregory Nadeau, the Federal Highway Administration’s Deputy Administrator, argued strongly for a long-term funding solution.

The temporary extension buys Congress several months, specifically until after this November’s elections, to hash out a longer term solution.

One of the more popular suggestions for funding has been raising the national gas tax, which at 18.4 cents per gallon, has not been raised since 1993. As cars have become significantly more fuel-efficient, the Fund’s primary source of income has failed to keep pace with construction needs. However, In an election year, many politicians are particularly adamant about not raising taxes.

Allowing the Fund to go bankrupt would be devastating to the economy, resulting in the loss of roughly 700,000 construction jobs as states would be forced to cut back infrastructure projects.

The passage of this bill avoids that outcome for now, but it is imperative that Congress comes up with a solution that will stabilize funding for years to come. Infrastructure is not often the first issue on people’s minds these days, but it is critical to the nation’s well-being and to the business community.

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The Great Lakes Metro Chamber Coalition, of which the Partnership is a co-founder and steering committee member, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have both advocated for extensions of the Highway Trust Fund, and we join them in recognizing Congress for not letting the Fund go bankrupt.

However, it is not enough to view this 10 month funding program as a complete victory; all three of our organizations will now push for a long term solution with reliable funding sources to restore our nation’s roads and bridges.  What that reliable funding source (or sources) will be remains to be determined.

There are several actions that community members can take to ensure a funding solution is reached.

First, write your Congressperson demonstrating the importance of infrastructure is crucial. On the state level, supporting cost-reducing programs such as Design-Build, and supporting reforms to the Scaffold Law will greatly reduce project costs here in New York.

A new funding solution should support cost-cutting programs, while establishing long-term funding sources like the gas tax and others, to make much needed improvements to our decaying infrastructure systems.

The Partnership has taken action throughout this year to push for more infrastructure investment, with the previously mentioned Transportation Summit, as well as hosting the TRIP Press Conference in February. TRIP’s New York State infrastructure analysis can be seen here.

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