Even with a boost from last year’s Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, freight-related infrastructure needs still far outrun funds available, says a new report from two major transportation groups.
Released on Dec. 6 by the American Association of State Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), the study calls for continuing Highway Trust Fund dollars for highway-freight projects and making more use of private-sector dollars for all freight system upgrades.
In addition, the organizations recommend changing the Harbor Maintenance Tax to a mandatory program; currently, it is a discretionary program. That change would increase annual outlays from the tax receipts for infrastructure improvements, according to the study.
An AASHTO survey identified $258.7 billion in what the study calls “critical” transportation infrastructure needs. But that amount understates the need because it reflects dollar estimates from only 18 states.
Bud Wright, AASHTO executive director, told reporters in a Dec. 6 conference call that his group doesn’t have an estimate of total needs for all 50 states. “But we know it’s going to be substantially larger than that [$258.7 billion],” he adds.
On top of the highway needs, a 2015 AAPA report pegged port transportation needs at $29 billion.
The FAST Act, signed into law on Dec. 4, 2015, was “a major step forward” for freight, the report states. The statute established a $4.5-billion, five-year discretionary grant program that the U.S. Dept. of Transportation named FASTLANE. The law also provided $6.3 billion over five years for a new national highway freight program.
But AASHTO and AAPA say, “The promise of a 21st-century freight network has yet to be fulfilled.” They note that, combined, the two new programs offer only about $1.1 billion for multimodal projects, which are often freight-related.
President-elect Donald Trump’s proposed $1-trillion, 10-year infrastructure plan has quickly caught transportation and construction industry officials’ attention and could be a possible vehicle for more freight-project dollars.
Kurt Nagle, AAPA CEO, says, “There is expected to be an infrastructure package of some sort early in the new administration and Congress, and we think that is a very good opportunity to begin to address some of these needs.”