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AASHTO Journal

House Appropriators Press Mendez for Highway Revenue Ideas
A House transportation appropriations subcommittee hearing to examine the Federal Highway Administration's Fiscal Year 2012 budget request ended abruptly Wednesday after Republican members expressed frustration with the lack of suggestions for ways to fund a long-term surface transportation reauthorization.

FHWA has requested $71 billion for FY 2012. FHWA's budget represents the first year of President Barack Obama's six-year surface transportation reauthorization proposal. (see Feb. 18 AASHTO Journal story) This proposal includes a 48% increase in funding for road and bridge improvements from the $227 billion authorized in the 2005 surface transportation law known as "SAFETEA-LU."

Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez told the subcommittee that America's aging highways and bridges must be addressed.

"For too long we have put off the improvements needed to keep pace with today's transportation needs," Mendez said in prepared testimony. "If we settle for the status quo, our next generation of entrepreneurs will find America's arteries of commerce impassably clogged and our families and neighbors will fight paralyzing congestion. One way the administration's proposal addresses this challenge is by focusing on rebuilding America's roads and bridges. Increased highway funding will expand access to jobs, education, and health care in the short term and lay the foundation for our nation's future economic growth."

After Mendez testified, subcommittee Chairman Tom Latham, R-Iowa, and Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, expressed frustration that the administration has not made a decision or offered any solid ideas on how raise the revenue needed to pay for Obama's proposed $556 billion six-year surface transportation reauthorization proposal, BNA reported.

"Someone should have considered revenue," Latham said. "It's very frustrating not to get any answers."

During questioning, members pressed Mendez on how the administration plans to pay for the proposed reauthorization. Existing revenues are projected to fall $231 billion short of funding the president's $556 billion six-year transportation plan for highways, bridges, mass transit, high-speed and intercity passenger rail, and a national infrastructure bank.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said repeatedly that the administration will not support increasing the federal gasoline and diesel taxes due to poor economic conditions for many Americans. The gas tax (18.4 cents per gallon) and diesel tax (24.4 cents per gallon) have not increased since 1993.

Mendez said FHWA would like to work closely with stakeholders and members of Congress to determine revenue-raising strategies for multiyear transportation improvements.

"The investments proposed for FHWA in FY 2012 will support thousands of jobs, make our roads safer and our communities more livable, and lay a foundation for future economic growth," he said. "I look forward to working with you and other members of Congress in the weeks and months ahead to ensure the success of this request."

LaTourette suggested the administration is making promises to the transportation industry that it can't follow through on.

Rep. John Olver, D-Massachusetts and ranking minority member of the subcommittee, said members of Congress have to agree that a revenue increase is necessary to maintain the nation's infrastructure system. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Florida, has ruled out increasing fuel taxes, however.

Program Consolidation, Performance Management Targets Proposed

The Obama administration's reauthorization proposal seeks to consolidate 55 separate highway programs into just five core programs, along with the creation of a competitive grants program and a new revenue alternatives office. The five new core programs would be Highway Safety Improvement Program; National Highway Program; Livable Communities Program; Federal Allocation Program; and Research, Technology, and Education Program.

Mendez also discussed new performance management criteria the administration has proposed.

"The plan is to transition to a performance-based highway program in incremental stages in the areas of safety and state of good repair where there is consensus on definitions and the data is currently available," Mendez said.

In FY 2012, the agency also seeks to continue implement its "Every Day Counts" initiative to reduce delivery time on major infrastructure projects (from original concept to construction completion) from nearly 14 years down to six or seven years.

Mendez's testimony is available at 1.usa.gov/Mendez033011.

4/1/2011
Questions regarding this article may be directed to editor@aashtojournal.org.