DALLAS -- State transportation officials have put Congress and President Trump on notice that they expect an accord in Washington this year on a major infrastructure renewal plan that includes a revenue boost for the ailing Highway Trust Fund. They also disagree with Trump on some of the infrastructure principles he has set forth.
The board of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials adopted a policy statement last week calling on Trump to "honor his commitment to shepherd and enact a major infrastructure package this year."
The new direct federal funding in the infrastructure renewal program should be channeled to states through existing formula grants and other programs, AASHTO's board said. As a minimum, they said, the infrastructure plan must resolve the funding shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund with a long-term and sustainable revenue solution.
The HTF would need $96 billion in additional revenues to support a five-year bill or $120 billion to support a six-year bill to keep programs funded at then-current levels when the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act expires at the end of fiscal 2020, AASHTO said.
The five-year, $305 billion FAST Act, enacted in late 2015, required the transfer of $70 billion from the general fund and elsewhere to support the authorized funding in the measure because revenues from federal gasoline and diesel taxes have been insufficient, AASHTO said in its policy statement. Some $140 billion has been transferred into the HTF since 2008 to compensate for anemic revenues from the federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon and diesel tax of 24.4 cents per gallon.
The AASHTO policy statement was adopted soon after the Trump administration released its proposed budget for fiscal 2018, along with a list of principles for infrastructure that would be used with $200 billion of new federal funding spread over nine years. The additional federal funding would be intended to leverage a total of $1 trillion in new state, local, and private spending on infrastructure projects.
Administration officials have said their project investment package will cover energy transmission lines, rural broadband, and other non-transportation needs, but the state DOT executives said the infrastructure proposal should focus on transportation projects.
The plan must recognize that most transportation infrastructure does not generate a revenue stream and needs direct federal funding rather than financing incentives that encourage borrowing or attracting private capital “given the essential nature of federal funding and oversight,” AASHTO said in the policy statement.
Trump administration officials also have said the infrastructure renewal effort would be directed to projects that could get underway in a few months or less, but the AASHTO board said that would be a mistake.
So-called shovel ready projects "are best suited for a recessionary economic environment," the statement said.
Lawmakers have mixed views about tolling. Considering tolling of existing interstates is one of the principles for infrastructure released by administration officials.
“Everything is on the table, [including] gas tax, tolling,” Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., the head of the highways and transit panel of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told reporters last week. “I’m not a big fan of tolling. I don’t like paying for a road twice but that’s my opinion.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he would be “open to just about anything” for infrastructure funding. The revenue from toll roads could help reduce federal transportation spending, he said.
Tolling has been considered by Missouri transportation officials as a way to fund the rebuilding of state highways and bridges but that remedy could be banned by the state constitution if opponents get a anti-tolling constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot.
An initiative petition drive is underway for a referendum that would prohibit tolling on Interstate 70 and other existing state roads.
Missouri Department of Transportation said last year that it would cost at least $2 billion to reconstruct and expand I-70. Missouri DOT’s budget for fiscal 2018 totals $2.3 billion.