Friday, March 30, 2012

Congress Slaps Another Band Aid On The Hemorrhaging Highway Trust Fund

In a shameless round of what has become typical Congressional backbiting and last minute gamesmanship with the futures of millions of our citizens, both the House and the Senate yesterday passed a three month extension of the Highway Trust Fund, mostly along party lines, and just two days before authority to collect and spend the federal motor fuel tax would have expired. The move, coming only hours before the House adjourned for two weeks, preserved the ability of the federal government to continue collecting $110 million a day in motor fuel taxes.

However, while the elected representatives in Washington, D.C., tout the measure as preserving 1.8 million construction industry jobs on infrastructure projects, that outcome is much less than clear. Projects already underway, it is true, will get continued funding for another 91 days, but the uncertainty about how much money might be available to state and local governments for projects which they planned to bid out next month could result in withdrawal of bid packages slated for release this spring, pushing many of those projects back a whole year due to the delay in passage of long term reauthorization legislation.

The Senate has already passed a two year, $109 billion reauthorization measure, but the more ambitious House version, a four year, $138.5 billion measure, fell apart amid strong tea party opposition. This much uncertainty about the level of federal funding for infrastructure construction after July 1, 2012, could lead Chicago and Illinois to delay bidding on CTA rehabilitation projects and IDOT’s annual construction program, slated for release to bidders in June. Congressional heedlessness to the summer highway construction season north of the Mason-Dixon line at this late date is simply unforgivable.

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