DALLAS -- President Trump's fiscal 2018 budget proposals and the principles for his infrastructure plan, both released Thursday, could actually reduce federal infrastructure funding, according to an analysis by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.

“When all elements of the proposal are combined, it is possible that the proposed infrastructure initiative will actually result in less, not more, federal investment in infrastructure,” ARTBA said.

States would be allowed turn interstate highways into toll roads if lawmakers heed Trump’s call to remove long-standing tolling ban.
States would be allowed turn interstate highways into toll roads if lawmakers heed Trump’s call to remove long-standing tolling ban.
Colorado DOT

The administration’s fiscal 2018 budget released on Tuesday would provide the Highway Trust Fund's highway and transit formula funding as authorized by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, but would then cap infrastructure funding in fiscal 2019 and 2020 at the 2018 level.

That could result in the foregoing of $2.4 billion in authorized FAST Act funding in the final two years of the five-year spending measure that was enacted in late 2015, ARTBA said.

Also, the budget plan calls for limiting federal transportation funding for states after the FAST Act expires in October 2020 to the $40 billion per year or so that fuel taxes bring to the HTF, the transportation advocacy group said.

“Most disturbingly, the administration is proactively calling for constraining future federal highway and transit investment to the level of incoming revenue to the Highway Trust Fund,” ARTBA said. Congress has transferred $140 billion of other revenue into the highway fund since 2008 to keep the fund afloat as federal gasoline tax collections failed to keep up with expenditures.

“The bottom line is that the budget cuts highway and transit investment by $100 billion over 10 years, which certainly dilutes the president’s separate call for $200 billion for the ‘infrastructure initiative,'” it said in the budget analysis. “Whether some of that comes back to the surface transportation programs remains to be seen.”

ARTBA’s analysis echoes the view of Senate Minority Leader Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who on Tuesday blasted the Trump budget as a net cut of infrastructure funding.

“His $200 billion infrastructure funding proposal is wiped out by over $200 billion in existing infrastructure investment cuts and an additional $140 billion in baseline spending shortfalls, which could result in an overall decrease of $145 billion in infrastructure spending over the next 10 years,” Schumer said.

The six-page fact sheet, which lays out the principles of the president's renewal effort, includes easing the ban on tolling of interstate highways with federal aid and expanding the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act's low-cost federal loan program. Those principles are expected to be used to develop a legislative package that will go to Congress later this year, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told reporters during a conference call on Tuesday.

“The administration’s goal is to seek long-term reform on how infrastructure projects are regulated, funded, delivered and maintained,” Chao said, noting that the principles in the fact sheet “are simple and yet quite profound.”

“We do not want to displace the local and the state-level funding,’’ Chao said. “The federal government will do its fair share, but we also want to partner with the states and tribes and localities.’’

The call for $200 billion of infrastructure investments over nine years proposed in Trump's budget is encouraging, but limiting federal transportation funding to states in later years to whatever the gasoline tax will bring in would be a mistake, said Bud Wright, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

“The administration’s assumption that the $17 billion annual Highway Trust Fund shortfall will not be addressed after FAST Act expiration greatly concerns us, along with large reductions in general fund programs authorized by the FAST Act in 2018,” he said. “We urge the administration to ensure robust and sustainable federal funding support for transportation in its infrastructure package.”

The lack of detail about the infrastructure plan in the budget proposal is not a concern, said Stephen Sandherr, chief executive of the Associated General Contractors of America.

“This budget provides an important, and much-needed, first step in identifying the best ways to pay for needed improvements .... to our aging infrastructure,” Sandherr said. “The fact is members of Congress will likely continue to exercise their Constitutional responsibility to set the federal budget.”

Interstate highway tolling could be a way to provide the revenues needed for the decade-long infrastructure renewal effort, said Patrick Jones, executive director of the International, Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association.

The 5,900 miles of toll roads in the U.S. generate more than $13 billion of revenues per year, Jones said.

“Toll financing may not be the answer for every highway, bridge, or tunnel project in the country, but the power of tolling is proven and effective,” Jones said. “Combined with the president’s proposed investment in infrastructure, tolling can provide valuable resources to the states to tackle transportation infrastructure projects.”

Truckers support infrastructure renewal but are “deeply concerned” about the administration’s proposal to loosen tolling restrictions, said Bill Sullivan, vice president for advocacy at the American Trucking Associations.

"In addition to being inefficient and unsafe, tolling has proven to be deeply unpopular, with states like North Carolina and Virginia abandoning interstate toll projects,” Sullivan said. “Quite simply, time and again, proposals to use tolls to fund highways have failed.”

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