With a multibillion-dollar hole expected to appear in the Highway Trust Fund in August, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has boosted his estimate of how much the repair will cost. LaHood has picked up support in the Senate for his proposed legislative vehicle, an 18-month extension of the current highway-transit law, which lapses on Sept. 30. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee leaders back a different plan, a six-year highway and transit bill, which cleared subcommittee on June 24. Lawmakers, state agencies and construction companies are waiting anxiously to see how the trust-fund remedy will be financed.
In May, administration officials projected the trust fund’s highway account would need $5 billion to $7 billion in August and another $8 billion to $10 billion through fiscal 2010. LaHood now has upped the ante, saying a total of $20 billion is required. At a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on June 25, LaHood heard support for his proposal. Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said panel members, with maybe one or two exceptions, agreed “that the short-term, 18-month extension is the way to go.” But key senators are not accepting the administration proposal to include policy changes in the stopgap. Boxer said the extension should be “clean as it can be—clean as a whistle.” LaHood said, “I got the message on that.”