National Press Club

Transportation Secretary: Short-Term Fix for Highway Trust Fund Inadequate

July 22, 2014 | By Bill Miller |

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx speaks at a July 21 National Press Club luncheon.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx speaks at a July 21 National Press Club luncheon.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Fast-moving Congressional efforts to rescue the Highway Trust Fund from becoming bankrupt next month will not solve the long-term crisis in funding the nation’s crumbling transportation infrastructure, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx warned at National Press Club luncheon July 21.

Noting that the House last week cleared a $10 billion extension of the fund through May of 2015 and that the Senate is due to take action on a similar measure this week, Foxx called the legislation only a “short-term patch.” If it passes, he said, “It will not be a time to celebrate.”

“It’s hard to imagine that Congress will not push the snooze button on this issue when it's crunch time again,” he said. “Come May, if we’re not careful, we will be right here again, with the shot clock set to expire, looking for an easy solution to patch us for a few months, leaving the real conversation for another time.”

Foxx, a former mayor of Charlotte who became Transportation secretary in May 2013, said that Congress’s long reliance on temporary replenishment of the endangered fund, which also provides funds for mass transit, is a “sad commentary on the way we are managing a declining, crumbling system.” Every year that Congress delays in passing long-term legislation, he said, “the cost of catching up grows further and further out of reach.”

“We’re piling up deferred maintenance” of transportation infrastructure, he said. “It is no surprise our system is falling apart.”

The American people, he said, “know that something is wrong because they’re stuck in traffic.” He said it is time for them to say to Congress to “’no more delays, no more gimmicks, short-term patches and Band-Aids” to keep the fund solvent.

Public awareness of the transportation infrastructure crunch “is starting to happen,” he contended. He pointed out that many governors, reflecting concern of their constituents, are pushing Congress for a long-term solution and last week 62 U.S. trade associations joined the effort.

To further prod Capitol Hill, he announced that he and 11 of his predecessors as Transportation Secretary –- including those who served under both Democratic and Republican presidents –- released, on the day of his speech, an open letter to Congress urging long-term action.

As for the type of legislation he’d like to see passed, Foxx cited the Obama administration’s four-year, $302 billion “Grow America Act,” which he said would stabilize the Highway Trust Fund, build a national freight network, streamline the transportation permitting process and provide dedicated funding for rail.

Foxx did not address in his prepared remarks the issue of an increase in the federal gasoline tax, the revenue source for the Highway Trust Fund that currently is 18.4 cents per gallon, but has not been increased since 1993. In the Q&A session, however, he noted that the administration “is open to other ideas” for the fund’s revenue. He said the gas tax “has some challenges” as a revenue source because of Increased fuel efficiency of vehicles.