Durbin Asks Committee To Help Stabilize Highway Trust Fund, Protect Illinois Priorities In Next Surface Transportation Bill
Transportation Secretary warns that without action, HTF insolvency could impact critical state projects
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin today asked the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) to stabilize the Highway Trust Fund in its bill to reauthorize the Surface Transportation Act. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx wrote the Illinois Department of Transportation and State Departments of Transportation across the country today to provide an update on the status of the fund, which is likely to dip below the critical $4 billion funding level this summer.
Today, Durbin also asked the Committee to increase funding for priority job-creating Illinois rail and multimodal priorities – including the Federal Freight Program and the Projects of Regional and National Significance grant program – and to include public interest protections for privatization transactions in the legislation.
“Illinois, as the road, rail and aviation hub of the country, is in dire need of funding to upgrade our aging transportation network,” wrote Durbin. “The next reauthorization can help make a significant dent in our infrastructure deficit if we increase investments in transportation. Our economic competitiveness depends on having a transportation network that can move people and goods quickly, safely and with minimal impact to the environment. Building and maintaining this type of transportation network will require a significant increase of transportation investments over current levels.”
The text of Senator Durbin’s letter is available below:
May 7, 2014
The Hon. Barbara Boxer The Hon. David Vitter
Chairman Ranking Member
Committee on Environment and Committee on Environment and
Public Works Public Works
410 Dirksen Senate Office Building 456 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510 Washington, DC 20510
Dear Chairman Boxer and Ranking Member Vitter:
As your Committee prepares to begin work on a surface transportation reauthorization bill, I would like to bring your attention to important transportation issues I hope you will incorporate into your legislation.
This reauthorization bill will have a significant impact on the transportation network in my state and the country. Dozens of non-partisan commissions, studies and academics have outlined the huge infrastructure deficit facing the nation. Illinois, as the road, rail and aviation hub of the country, is in dire need of funding to upgrade our aging transportation network.
The next reauthorization can help make a significant dent in our infrastructure deficit if we increase investments in transportation. Our economic competitiveness depends on having a transportation network that can move people and goods quickly, safely and with minimal impact to the environment. Building and maintaining this type of transportation network will require a significant increase of transportation investments over current levels.
In addition to increasing investment levels, I respectfully urge you to consider the following issues as your Committee considers a surface transportation bill:
Stabilize the Highway Trust Fund
DOT estimates the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) could become insolvent sometime this summer. Allowing the HTF to reach this point could result in the slowing down or stopping of construction projects across the country. This will be a body blow to the economy, and we must work together and address this situation as soon as possible to ensure projects continue without delay.
Equitable Funding for Illinois
MAP-21 increased Illinois’ share of formula highway funding to the highest level in over 15 years. However, Illinois is home to one of the largest transportation networks in the country and our needs for repair and additional capacity are growing rapidly. Illinois lies at the heart of our busy national interstate system; Illinois interstates see more than 106 million vehicle miles of travel annually. Illinois’ large number of federal, state and local roads require increased federal revenues in order to move people and goods safely and efficiently. The highway formulas your Committee creates should ensure a greater share of federal highway dollars for Illinois.
Improve and Grow the Freight Program
MAP-21 created an important, yet un-funded Federal Freight Program. The bill helped expand federal and state involvement in freight by requiring a new national freight policy, creating state freight plans and advisory committees and incentivizing projects that improve freight movement. The next bill should provide guaranteed funding via contract authority for the Freight Program. Projects in all modes of transportation should be eligible and investments should be focused in areas like Illinois where there is a high concentration of freight moving to and from the state.
Projects of Regional and National Significance
SAFETEA-LU included significant funding for the Projects of Regional and National Significance Program that helped invest in the CREATE program in Chicago, build a new Mississippi River bridge in Metro East, Illinois and jumpstart the Elgin-O’Hare Western Bypass. This program deserves guaranteed funding via contract authority to be successful in the next transportation bill. Secondly, the Projects of Regional and National Significance program should be mode-neutral and allow local governments to compete directly for funding.
Taxpayer Protection in Privatization of Federally Funded Transportation Assets
The next transportation bill should include responsible rules governing public-private partnerships for existing transportation infrastructure.
States and local communities are increasingly looking to sell or lease existing infrastructure to fill local budget deficits. Many of these public assets were built and maintained with federal taxpayer dollars. I encourage you to require local governments to repay past federal investment before selling or leasing transportation infrastructure built and maintained by the federal government. It is important for federal taxpayers to receive a return on their investment instead of letting federal funds turn into a windfall for private entities and local governments.
I also encourage you to require greater public participation and transparency of privatization deals involving federally funded transportation assets. Private interests buying or leasing existing transportation assets should disclose the estimated amount of profit, including tax benefits they expect to receive over the life of the lease or sale of publicly funded transportation assets. Similarly, public owners of federally funded transportation assets should give the public ample time to review and comment before transportation assets can be sold or leased.
Support Bicycle and Pedestrian Infrastructure
The Committee should reject efforts to bar federal funding for bicycle and pedestrian programs. Dedicated funding streams for bike and pedestrian infrastructure have improved street safety and created alternatives to driving. The next transportation bill should consider all modes of transportation, not just highways.
Rail Traffic Mitigation Assistance for Communities
Shifting more freight to our railways is a cleaner, cheaper and more environmentally friendly way to move goods. However, this increased freight often brings with it greater noise, vibrations and blocked traffic at grade crossings. I encourage you to include funding, programs and policies that will help local communities mitigate the negative impacts of increased freight traffic.
Greater Local Control of Federal Transportation Funds
Local communities can often deliver transportation projects more efficiently when they receive transportation dollars directly. Cities and towns can also achieve national transportation goals like congestion reduction, air quality improvement and safety in innovative ways when they have the opportunity to access funds directly. I encourage you to include targeted, mode-neutral investment opportunities to help cities and their metropolitan areas improve their transportation systems.
Rural Road Improvement and Safety
This transportation bill should not lose focus on America's rural transportation system. Our national economy depends on keeping agricultural products, commodities and intermodal freight moving. I encourage you to include programs to improve the safety and efficiency of our rural roads.
Safety and Performance Measures
MAP-21 made great strides to help states and local governments create and implement performance measures to evaluate their transportation investments, especially how those investments increase safety. The next transportation bill should build on those efforts and help states and local governments use these performance measures to guide their funding decisions toward projects that will increase safety, improve our infrastructure, reduce congestion, improve our economy and sustain the environment.
MAP-21 will expire on October 1, 2014. Almost all stakeholders agree we need a long-term transportation authorization bill to ensure the stability of our national transportation program. However, the House of Representatives recently passed a budget that would slash critical investments for roads, bridges, and rail, and increase our infrastructure deficit.
If adhered to, the Republican budget could cut funding for transportation projects next year by $51 billion and put an estimated 186,000 heavy construction and related jobs at risk according to the Center for American Progress. Cuts of this size would mark the first time Congress reduced funding levels for transportation in a reauthorization bill in decades.
Thank you for the consideration of my views. I look forward to working with you to provide our country with the public works projects that will keep us competitive in the 21st century economy.
Richard J. Durbin
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