DOT seeks $20 billion for highways, transit
The U.S. Department of Transportation in late June submitted its plan to Congress for a phased approach to reauthorizing surface transportation programs intended to cover the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund during the next 18 months.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood first proposed on June 17 that Congress postpone action on a comprehensive bill for financing and reforming highway, transit and rail programs to allow more time to develop long-term policies. The Obama administration instead prefers first-stage funding to plug the Highway Trust Fund, which is expected to run out of money by the end of August.
The Transportation Department's plan asks Congress to extend the existing SAFETEA-LU spending plan with an assist from the general fund of $18 billion to pay for highway maintenance and safety, and $2 billion for transit programs through March 2011. It asks Congress to pass the measure before the August recess to avoid disrupting state construction projects and budgets.
The plan says the money should be repaid to the general fund during the following decade using a range of options, including the president's proposal to close international tax loopholes for U.S. subsidiaries operating in foreign countries.
The DOT also offered some reforms for states to use merit-based criteria for project selection that could carry over into a broader six-year spending blueprint, including better use of cost-benefit analysis, creating a new program to improve multimodal access and promoting livable communities.
It requested $300 million to help metropolitan planning organizations gather and analyze data about transportation conditions that can be used for investment decisions.
Another $10 million would go to the DOT to develop multimodal performance goals and assessment standards that states could use to identify worthy projects.
It also proposed more rigorous requirements for states and localities to disclose the outcomes of transportation investments, including projects costs, timeline adherence and the selection process.
The DOT also formally proposed the establishment of a National Infrastructure Bank to help identify and finance large, cost-effective projects of regional or national importance. The bank would initially focus on transportation infrastructure and expand to other sectors over time. It would focus on projects that:
' Cross state and local jurisdictions, such as freight and passenger rail.
' Integrate sectors and policy goals, such as highway projects that consider land use and economic development.
' Cross transportation silos, such as a bridge project that includes a rail line and harbor dredging.
The budget resolution adopted by Congress earlier this year includes $7 billion for a National Infrastructure Bank for two years.
The administration's proposal to delay a full surface transportation was rebuffed by Rep. James Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, as well has Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the highways and transit subcommittee, among others. ' Eric Kulisch