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America's GPA: D+
Estimated Investment Needed by 2020:
$3.6 Trillion

Senate EPW Committee Examines How to Modernize America’s Infrastructure

February 9th, 2017 | By: Laura Hale

On Wednesday the Senate’s Environment and Public Works committee held its first oversight hearing of the 115th Congress (video available here) and new Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) started things off by making it clear where he stands on the proposal offered by President Trump’s campaign to use private investment to improve our nation’s infrastructure:
“Funding solutions that involve public-private partnerships, as have been discussed by administration officials, may be innovative solutions for crumbling inner cities, but do not work for rural areas….Public-private partnerships and other approaches to infrastructure investment that depend on a positive revenue stream from a project are not a surface transportation infrastructure solution for rural states.”
A panel of five state and local government officials representing Colorado, Delaware, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming appeared before the Committee and spoke about what their communities need from the federal government to modernize their infrastructure (written testimony available here). Cindy Bobbitt, Commissioner of Grant County, Oklahoma, emphasized that while public-private partnerships might not be a good fit for rural counties like hers, municipal bonds are. Ms. Bobbitt asked Congress to protect tax-exempt municipal bonds. (A bit of background: Republican leadership has declared tax reform a top priority in this Congress and is planning a broad overhaul of the tax code. State and local governments, which rely on municipal bonds to finance infrastructure and community projects, fear that the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds could be changed. Stakeholders, including ASCE, have joined together to ask Congress to protect tax-exempt municipal bonds.) William Panos, Director of the Wyoming Department of Transportation, drew the Committee’s attention to the fact that the increased spending levels authorized by the FAST Act (enacted December 2015) have yet to take effect. Because Congress has not passed a FY17 spending bill (despite the federal fiscal year 2017 beginning October 1, 2016) and instead kept the government open via two Continuing Resolutions (CRs), funding for surface transportation is still at FY16’s (i.e. pre-FAST Act) authorized levels. Mr. Panos said the use of repeated CRs “restricts our ability to plan for future projects and in our state we’re working with our state legislature now and we needed to ask for twice the amount of borrowing authority we would have otherwise” to be able to cover cashflow needs in the face of federal funding uncertainty. Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) also took the opportunity to highlight the fact that Wyoming raised its gas tax by 10 cents in 2013, while the federal gas tax has not been raised since 1993 and the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money in 2020 without Congressional action. Next week has more transportation-related hearings in store. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security will hold a hearing on stakeholder perspectives on a multimodal transportation. The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection will hold a hearing on the road to deployment of driverless cars.  

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The FAST Act Turns One, But The Work’s Not Done

December 5th, 2016 | By: Laura Hale

This Sunday was the one year anniversary of the signing of the FAST Act, the five-year federal surface transportation authorization. The law authorizes federal funding for highways, bridges, transit systems and railroads. The passage of the FAST Act was a victory for proponents of infrastructure and everyday Americans who use it. It provided a small increase in funding and was the first long-term authorization bill in years, which provides states the certainty to plan and build projects. However, the passage of the FAST Act did not mean Congress can be done with transportation infrastructure until 2020. Even with the increase in federal funding the FAST Act provided, the nation’s surface transportation system (its roads, bridges, rail and transit) is in need of repair and we’re investing less than half of what’s needed. In May of this year, ASCE released an economic study examining the nation’s investment in infrastructure and its economic consequences. The study found the U.S. was on track to invest about $940 million in surface transportation over the next decade (from all levels of government and the private sector), leaving a $1.1 trillion gap. This underinvestment will have a cascading impact on the nation’s economy, impacting productivity, GDP, employment, personal income, international competitiveness and, most importantly, public safety. Every year this investment gap, along with that of other infrastructure categories, is not addressed it will cost American families $3,400. A large part of the problem is there has not been enough federal funding available for surface transportation infrastructure. The Highway Trust Fund (HTF) is supposed to fund the federal government’s investments in roads, bridges and transit, but an insufficient revenue stream has limited these investments. The HTF is primarily funded by the federal motor fuels tax of 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.4 on diesel. The tax has not been raised since 1993 and inflation has decreased its real value by 40%. To make up for the shortfall, Congress has been diverting general fund dollars into the HTF since 2008. Congress failed to provide the HTF a sustainable funding source in the FAST Act and instead relied once again on a general fund transfer. In order to fix the country’s existing infrastructure and build new infrastructure to meet the needs of our growing and evolving nation, the U.S. needs to treat infrastructure spending as an investment in its future. This must include providing the HTF a reliable and sufficient revenue source so the U.S. can get to work fixing and modernizing its roads, bridges and transit systems. Experience shows that it will take time to deliberate the best course of action and build consensus, so the 115th Congress will need to start working right away on fixing the trust fund, rather than waiting until the authorization runs out. Every day they delay, deteriorating infrastructure costs American families.

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With Gas Prices Low, Congress Has Opportunity to #FixTheTrustFund

August 8th, 2016 | By: Laura Hale

Last month’s average gas price in the U.S. was the lowest for July since 2004. Cheap gas coupled with an improved economy is spurring Americans to drive more. After a decrease during the recession, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is climbing again. Summer is the busiest time on U.S. roads and many drivers will find themselves stuck in traffic, whether they’re headed to work or the beach. In 2014, Americans spent 6.9 billion hours sitting in traffic (42 hours per driver). The wasted time and gas add up—the total cost of congestion in 2014 was $160 billion ($960 per driver).

vmt 4Estimated VMT based on traffic volume trends. Federal Highway Administration.

A major contributor to congestion is the underinvestment into our road network. According to AASHTO, there is a $629 billion backlog of highway needs. For the federal government and most states, taxes on gasoline and diesel are the primary funding source for highways, but the tax rates frequently have not been raised in years, sometimes decades. Many states are considering plans to raise their fuel taxes to increase their investment in highway infrastructure and last year nine states actually did it. Despite these tax increases, the price drivers pay at the pump has continued to go down—one study by ARTBA even shows that a gas tax increase does not have a direct impact on the price at the pump. Federal lawmakers unfortunately have not followed their lead. The federal Highway Trust Fund has been flirting with insolvency since 2008 because its primary funding source, an 18.4 cent per gallon tax on gasoline and a 24.4 cent per gallon tax on diesel, has not been raised since 1993. Inflation has cut its real value by 40%. The fund has been propped up by $140 billion in transfers from the general fund. In order to ensure adequate and stable funding for America’s highways, the Trust Fund needs a sustainable funding source. The most direct and immediate way to #FixTheTrustFund is to increase the tax on gas and diesel a sufficient amount at the federal level to stop the need for general fund transfers and allow for increased investment to address the backlog.  Meanwhile, there should be additional pilot programs to test charging motorists based on how much they use roads with the long-term goal of using mileage-based user fees to fund the federal highway trust fund to prepare for the future. It’s time for Congress to step up and #FixTheTrustFund.

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Inaugural Round of FASTLANE Grant Recipients Released

July 13th, 2016 | By: Laura Hale

The U.S. Department of Transportation provided to Congress last week the list of 18 recipients of the first annual round of FASTLANE grants. The FASTLANE program was authorized by the FAST Act to fund critical freight and highway projects of national or regional significance. The grants can be used for highway, port, freight rail and intermodal projects. The FAST Act authorized $4.5 billion in funding for the FASTLANE program for fiscal years 2016-2020, with 25 percent reserved for rural projects, and 10 percent for smaller projects. While this investment is a great kick-start for the 18 recipient projects, the application process calls attention to the need to increase investment in our infrastructure as $10 billion worth of projects were requested, while only about a tenth of that was able to be funded. U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Reps. Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR), chairman and ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released a statement saying:
“The demand for the FASTLANE program has already far exceeded expectations, receiving 212 applications for projects totaling roughly $10 billion, more than 10 times the available amount. This program is an important achievement of the FAST Act, and the response illustrates how critical freight and highway investments are to improving the movement of goods and reducing congestion.”
The Fast Act provides for five years of certainty on the federal level for transportation projects, and the FASTLANE Grant program exemplifies the benefits that can happen when we make the investment. However, long-term funding looms large, as Congress still needs to #FixTheTrustFund with a sustainable funding source. Click on any project to learn more about it:
AZ: I-10 Phoenix-Tucson Corridor Improvements
CA: SR 11 Segment 2 and Southbound Connectors
DC: Arlington Memorial Bridge Reconstruction Project
FL: Truck Parking Availability System
GA: Port of Savannah International Multi-Modal Corridor
IA: Cedar Rapids Logistics Park
ID: US 95 North Corridor Access Intermodal Project
LA: I-10 Freight CoRE
MA: Conley Terminal Intermodal Improvements/ Modernization
ME: Maine Intermodal Port Productivity Project
NY: I-390/I-490/Rt. 31 Interchange, Lyell Avenue Corridor
NY: Cross Harbor Freight Program (Rail)
OK: US 69/75 Bryan County
OR: Coos Bay Rail Line – Tunnel Rehabilitation Project
VA: Atlantic Gateway: Partnering to Unlock I-95 Corridor
WA South Lander St. Grade Separation /Railroad Safety Project
WA Strander Blvd. Extension and Grade Separation Phase 3
WI I-39/90 Corridor Project

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House Passes Resolution Limiting Options to Fix the Highway Trust Fund

June 10th, 2016 | By: Laura Hale

Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed H. Con. Res. 112, a resolution introduced by Rep. Boustany (R-LA) and co-sponsored by 11 Republicans expressing Congress’ opposition to new fees on oil. As yesterday’s blog post highlighted, this resolution may be non-binding, but it puts Congress on the record in opposition to a viable option for fixing the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). Because the gas tax rate has not kept up with inflation, the HTF has been on the brink of insolvency many times in the past several years. Instead of addressing the HTF’s long-term solvency problem, Congress has relied on general funds transfers for the past eight years to prop up the fund, including most recently in the FAST Act. Rep. DeFazio (D-OR), ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, spoke passionately in opposition to the resolution. In under 24 hours, over 200 advocates responded to ASCE’s action alert and contacted their representatives in opposition to H. Con. Res. 112. Along with 30 coalition partners, ASCE sent a letter to Congress opposing the resolution. Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR) read extensively from the letter in his remarks on the House floor. As a concurrent resolution, H. Con. Res. 112 will pass over the Senate for debate and vote. It remains to be seen if that body will pick up the measure.  

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Congressional Vote Could Limit Options to #FixTheTrustFund

June 9th, 2016 | By: Laura Hale

Tomorrow the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on H. Con. Res. 112, a concurrent resolution introduced by Rep. Boustany (R-LA) and co-sponsored by 11 Republicans that would express Congress’ opposition to new fees on oil. While non-binding, the resolution would put Congress on the record as opposing one option for fixing the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). For years now the HTF has been spending more than it has been bringing in. It has been propped up with $140 billion in general fund transfers since 2008. Its primary funding source, the motor fuels tax, has not been increased since 1993 and inflation has decreased its value by 40%. Unstable and insufficient federal funding for surface transportation is one the main reasons our infrastructure is in such poor shape. ASCE’s 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave our nation’s roads a D, our bridges a C+ and our transit a D. The U.S. is on track to invest less than half of what is needed in surface transportation over the next decade. This will have a cascading impact on our nation’s economy, impacting productivity, GDP, employment, personal income, international competitiveness, and, most importantly, public safety. Every year this funding gap is not addressed it will cost American families $3,400 – that’s $9 a day because of underperforming infrastructure. The HTF needs a long-term funding solution and in order to get there, all options need to be on the table. H. Con. Res. 112 would eliminate a viable funding alternative and does not offer any strategy to #FixTheTrustFund and repair America’s deteriorating transportation infrastructure. Along with 30 coalition partners, ASCE sent a letter to Congress standing up for infrastructure and opposing H. Con. Res. 112. Want to help #FixTheTrustFund? Tell your congressman to oppose H. Con Res. 112!

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2015 Media Relations Year in Review

January 8th, 2016 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

Last year, ASCE was mentioned in the media more than 12,900 times in all 50 states and in more than 30 countries around the world, including 27 major print and broadcast media outlets and wire services. ASCE members and staff interviewed on everything from the state of the nation’s infrastructure to fixing the Highway Trust Fund to Game Changers to the impact of natural disasters on infrastructure. Here are some of the major highlights from 2015: HBO’s Last Woliver2eek Tonight with John Oliver (3/2/15) highlighting the state of the nation’s infrastructure
  • Episode has been viewed more than 5.9 million times on YouTube
 New York Times interview with Greg DiLoreto (6/1/15) about nation’s aging water infrastructure Katie Couric story on Yahoo (5/18/15) spotlighting ASCE’s Report Card and nation’s deteriorating infrastructure Katie Couric - Now I Get It Op-ed in The Hill (7/27/15) authored by Bob Stevens touting ASCE’s Game Changers report. CNBC Closing Bell interview (5/13/15) with Brian Pallasch following the Philadelphia Amtrak derailment Fix the Trust Fund national radio tour led by Andy Herrmann
  • Total listenership: 11.9 million
  • Total number of airings: 2,064
  • Number of stations airing: 1,814

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Obama Set to Sign 5 Year, $305 Billion Transportation Bill

December 4th, 2015 | By: America's Infrastructure Report Card

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate both approved a five-year, $305 billion highway, transit and railway authorization bill. The overwhelming, bipartisan vote was 359-65 in the House and 83-16 in the Senate. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law later on today. Thank you, infrastructure supporters, for contacting your members of Congress, which certainly helped secure this victory! In the run-up to the vote, ASCE leadership urged adoption of the legislation known as the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. The FAST Act provides nearly $233 billion for highways, $49 billion for transit and $10 billion federal passenger rail. By the end of the bill’s five-year duration, highway investment would rise by 15% and transit spending would grow by nearly 18%. The FAST Act is the longest surface transportation authorization bill since the enactment of a previous five-year bill in 2005. The bill includes:
  • Creation of a dedicated $1.25 billion freight program to help ensure federal investments are targeted at improving U.S. economic competitiveness;
  • Providing $900 million per year for large-scale projects under a new, nationally-significant freight and highways program;
  • Cutting the TIFIA program from $1 billion annually to around $300 million per year. TIFIA helps leverage billions of dollars in private sector capital for investment in our nation’s infrastructure;
  • Innovation initiatives, such as establishing a national program to explore surface transportation funding alternatives to the fuels tax; and
  • Investment in transit by creating a new research and deployment program, increasing funds for fixed guideways, and establishing a new bus facility program.
The bill was paid for through $70 billion in general fund money, which came from sources unrelated to transportation. The largest offset came from spending down a capital surplus account in the Federal Reserve. The bill does not #FixTheTrustFund as ASCE had been calling for, because it does not provide a sustainable source of revenues to support the Highway Trust Fund. The Highway Trust Fund is now slated to experience a $24 billion annual shortfall starting in fiscal year 2021 should Congress fail to provide a future funding fix to this looming crisis. Thank you for all of your efforts over the past several months in helping to secure program certainty and increased funding for our nation’s federal surface transportation programs!    

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House Passes Six-Year Highway & Transit Bill

November 6th, 2015 | By: America's Infrastructure Report Card

STRR                 Yesterday, newly-minted House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) shepherded through his first piece of major legislation with bipartisan passage of a six-year, $325 billion surface transportation reauthorization bill. The Surface Transportation Reauthorization & Reform (STRR) Act of 2015 cleared the House by a vote of 363-64. A last-minute amendment was added to STRR that secured an additional $40 billion in revenue from an unused Federal Reserve account. This means that while the House bill is now funded for a full six-years, it still does not increase highway and transit funding levels over the current amount. Following the bill’s passage, ASCE President Mark W. Woodson, P.E., F.ASCE, released a statement saying, “While the House-passed bill provides six years of stability for the nation’s road, bridge, and transit programs, it fails to increase funding to levels that are adequate to properly maintain our infrastructure.” Mark went on to state that, “ASCE is disappointed that House leadership prevented a vote on raising the federal gas tax – a policy solution that would have provided long-term funding and certainty that states desperately need to move forward with their transportation projects.” ASCE endorsed multiple amendments that were offered to raise the gas tax, including one by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), however none of those amendments were allowed to receive a full vote on the House floor. An amendment that was defeated, which ASCE weighed-in against, was a sense of Congress resolution introduced by Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) in support of the concept of devolving the federal transportation program to the states. Some highlights of the House bill include: • Multi-year program certainty that will help states and localities better plan and deliver projects; • Accelerated project delivery reforms aimed to improve collaboration between agencies and create deadlines for agency action(s); • Providing grants to states for continued and expanded pilot testing of future road user fee collection systems; • A new competitive grant to address bus and bus facility needs; • Increased focus on funding for roadway safety infrastructure and on the safety needs of rural roads; and • An option for localities to bundle small projects such as bridges to increase efficiency. The House vote follows previous Senate action in July on its surface transportation bill, which provided only three years of funding although at much higher levels. Now the House and Senate will work to negotiate a compromise before the looming November 20 deadline. ASCE will be reviewing the House and Senate bills to determine which provisions we favor to be included in any final agreement. On funding, ASCE urges a final bill be multi-year with sizable funding increases for highway and transit programs. Be sure to check this blog regularly in the coming days and weeks to get more updates on how you can help our advocacy effort to #FixTheTrustFund.

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Fix the Trust Fund: Now it’s the Senate’s Turn

July 20th, 2015 | By: America's Infrastructure Report Card

  Last Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to extend highway and transit programs until December 18, 2015 on a 312-119 vote. The House bill granted a $8.1 billion boost the Highway trust Fund (HTF) to keep it solvent past the looming July 31 deadline. This extension will fund surface transportation projects through the mid-December timeframe. The decision was reached, because extending the program is seen as a far better alternative than allowing the HTF to run out of money. “The last thing we want to do is see road construction stop at the beginning of August,” said Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. This week the Senate will pursue an alternative approach, where a bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell want to pass a long-term bill. Senate Republican leaders are trying to find money for a six-year bill, the DRIVE Act, which cleared the Environment and Public Works Committee a few weeks ago. The bill, S. 1647, would provide a twenty percent increase in funding over the course of six years and proposes reforms to improve freight movement, deliver large projects and streamline project delivery. The cycle of short-term extensions has blocked planning and delivery of major projects in several states, and even more states have announced that they will be forced to cancel and delay projects until the Congress enacts a multi-year bill. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has said that uncertainty about highway funds has led to canceled projects in Georgia, Tennessee, Vermont, Delaware and Arkansas. He said that unless Congress acts to extend funding beyond the July 31 deadline, the U.S. Department of Transportation “will not have the authority to provide project sponsors with any additional contract authority for new or ongoing projects.” In early August, the balance of the Highway Trust Fund will drop below $4 billion which is when the reimbursement payments to states for completed projects will slow. The time is now to focus on the activity in the Senate and urge lawmakers to vote in favor of a long-term bill by the July 31 deadline. To help, you can:
  • Send a request today to meet with your members of Congress: Here are some helpful hints and how to set up a “back home” meeting.
  • Contact your Senators via letter or phone call: If you can’t meet in person, send your Senators a quick letter or give their office a call and ask for the staff that handles transportation. Look up their number and get talking points here.
  • Communicate with your member of Congress via social media: Most members of Congress have Facebook and Twitter pages. In addition to calling or writing a letter, urge them to #FixTheTrustFund on social media.

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