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Congress takes a break, highway bill issues remain

Congress takes a break, highway bill issues remain

Congress may be on an extended Independence Day break, but debate over the next highway bill continues with the White House, business groups and think tanks all weighing in this week. The problem, however, is that none of these has a vote. And federal funding for surface transportation programs runs out at the end of the month.

President Obama, in a joint press conference with the president of Brazil, named the highway bill near the top of the “hard things” left to tackle in his time left in office.

“I want to see if we can get bipartisan work done with Congress around rebuilding our infrastructure,” Obama said. “Brazil just talked about their rebuilding of highways and roads and ports and bridges.  You know what, we’ve got the same work to do and we need to put people back to work there.”

Obama offered similar remarks earlier in the week at a bill signing for a bipartisan trade authorization package.

“[The trade bill] is a reminder of what we can get done—even on the toughest issues—when we work together in a spirit of compromise,” the president said. “I hope we’re going to be able to summon that same spirit on future challenges, like starting to rebuild some of our roads and bridges and infrastructure around the country, because the American people deserve nothing less from us.”

This comes as the Dept. of Transportation updated its Highway Trust Fund “ticker,” a monthly calculation of the balance remaining in the account from which states draw the federal portion of highway construction funds.

Click to enlarge

The latest projection has the highway account falling below the $4 billion by July 31, which would entail “cash management procedures” such as rationing state payments. The account is projected to go into the red before the end of August.

Want to know more about the Highway Trust Fund? The Eno Center for Transportation has recently published a handy explainer.

The document updates the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Highway Trust Fund Primer that was released in 1998. The Eno update provides basic information about the fund, including how it works, its sources of revenue and balances, and other budgetary and regulatory influences.

Also just out, the American Road and Transportation Builders Assn.(ARTBA) has published an analysis of the Senate’s highway policy portion of the reauthorization, the DRIVE Act, passed unanimously last week by the Environment and Public Works committee.

The ARTBA analysis breaks down the budget, explains the key programs, and notes numerous highway policy reforms proposed in the legislation.

All this comes as a new survey conducted by third party logistics company National Retail Systems (NRS) indicates that the worsening conditions of U.S. roadways may be contributing to the ongoing driver shortage, largely as delays due to road construction and repairs are affecting truck driver earnings.

So it goes.

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