Owens Votes to Replenish Federal Highway Trust Fund

Congressman Bill Owens votes to adopt a bipartisan short-term solution to replenish the Highway Trust Fund. If similar legislation is approved by the Senate, it will provide about $11 billion in infrastructure funding expected to last until spring of 2015. Congressman Owens says “The Highway Trust Fund is a critical pillar supporting many industries throughout the district, state, and nation,” and he continues by saying “While this is not the permanent solution he had hoped for, it is an important step that keeps people employed and allows us to maintain critical infrastructure.”

The federal Highway Trust Fund provides funding for projects that support an estimated 700,000 jobs across the U.S. Its funding comes primarily from the 18.4 cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline sales. That tax is not indexed to inflation and has not been increased since 1993. It also does not account for rapidly increasing fuel standards. These factors have contributed to a growing deficit for the fund that will soon exhaust its remaining balance.

The current transportation bill includes approximately $50 billion in annual infrastructure spending while the gas tax only provides about $34 billion in revenue, a deficit of $16 billion every year that has left the fund with only about $2 billion remaining.

The U.S. Department of Transportation had announced plans to reduce payments to state and local governments next month if the fund was not replenished. According to The Hill, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx had recommended that states prepare for these cuts on the assumption that Congress would not be able to act in time. “States will be paid not as they send their bills in, but every two weeks as money from the gas tax comes in,” said Foxx. “This is we believe the most equitable approach.”

State and local leaders also spoke out in favor of replenishing the Highway Trust Fund.

“Long-term, sustainable investment in our nation’s highways and bridges is critical to mobility and economic growth,” New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald said. “In the short-term, however, immediate final action on this spending plan will eliminate the threat of federally funded transportation projects being severely limited beginning Oct. 1 with the start of the new federal fiscal year.”

According to the Governor’s office, the Highway Trust Fund supports 49 projects across New York’s 21st Congressional District representing $130 million in federal funding and $164 million in total cost. These projects include upgrades to critical roads like routes 3 and 30 in the Village of Tupper Lake, four projects on the Northway (I-87) receiving $24 million in federal funding, and numerous repairs on bridges throughout the district. Beyond infrastructure’s importance to the local economy, each of these projects creates hundreds of good construction jobs in northern New York.

“The Highway Trust Fund is critical for local communities,” said Mike Elmendorf, President and CEO of the Associated General Contractors. “Beyond the billions of dollars in commerce that rely upon our roads and bridges, families around our state deserve to know that the infrastructure they are traveling on is safe and secure. In addition, this money will also help to create thousands of good paying construction jobs in regions where unemployment remains high. I thank Congressman Owens for his work on this issue, and look forward to swift resolution as it relates to funding the HTF.”

According to Elmendorf, 32 percent of New York State bridges have been rated as structurally deficient and more than half of New York State roads are in poor condition; 54 percent of the money that the New York State Department of Transportation spends on these roads, bridges and public transportation comes from the Highway Trust Fund.

Scott Bombard, Sales Manager of Graymont Materials in Plattsburgh came out strongly in favor of the trust fund and called for a long term solution: “Our company depends on federal transportation funding. Especially in the North Country where the season is shorter, that revenue stream is vital. It keeps projects going and drives the whole industry, from bidding to completion. If that funding dries up and the State decides not to move ahead without it, lots of people are going to be out of work.”

Richard Daddario, Business Manager of Laborers International Union of North America Local 1822 responded to the prospect of a break in federal highway funding: “Infrastructure work is the backbone of the construction industry here. This is money we need, money that will replace a lot of aging infrastructure in our region that needs to be replaced sooner rather than later. Having no federal highway bill from Congress has already made the construction industry soft in a lot of areas. That puts our members’ jobs at risk, and we’re talking about hundreds of good local jobs here. In some cases the state has tried to make up the money but does it have an economic impact to leave our industry hanging? Absolutely. It would be unfair to hold the working men and women in our area hostage to a political debate when everyone knows this issue needs to be addressed.”

Neil Dicob, Assistant Regional Manager for Barrett Paving Materials Inc. New York North Region (NYN) in Watertown emphasized the national impact of the Highway Trust Fund: “Re-authorizing the highway trust fund with a long term funding source is critical to ensuring the country remains competitive in the global economy. Having a long term funding source would put Americans back to work and revitalize our economy.”

Brian Hammond, Manager of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 687 gave strong support for a long-term solution: “Infrastructure is a bloodline for jobs in the North Country. One of the first things companies ask when they talk about operating in our region is: can people and resources get in and out? That means there’s real value in projects like the rooftop highway that could have a major positive effect over time. But we also have many shovel-ready projects that could have a direct impact tomorrow. We’re talking roads and bridges that are in need of repair as a matter of safety and reliability. Funding these projects is not just important for commerce and tourism. It also has an economic ripple effect for many of our members, stabilizing jobs for drivers by making it easier for deliveries to come and go, and supporting lots of jobs on worksites. Federal funding is the source for these critical projects that can make or break the region’s economy.”

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