It's looking more and more likely that Congress won't approve an industry-desired five- or six-year bill increasing funds for highway and transit programs by May 31, when the current 10-month authorization lapses. Another stopgap appears to be in the cards.
Cathy Connor, Parsons Brinckerhoff senior vice president, says, "I think, at this point, it is clear that we're not going to identify sufficient funding to do a long-term bill by May 31. So, it is fairly obvious that we will have to do some sort of short-term extension."
Another stopgap—the 33rd over the past six years—will have to include new revenue to prevent the Highway Trust Fund from slipping into a deficit. Brian Deery, senior director of the Associated General Contractors highway and transportation division, says, "The problem with coming up with a short-term extension ... is that they still have to come up with the money and the 'pay for.' "
Jack Basso, principal with Peter J. Basso and Associates LLC, Rockville, Md., estimates the trust fund will need a $5-billion infusion to stay in the black through Sept. 30. An extension through Dec. 31 will need a total of $10 billion, says Basso.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters on April 2 that, even without new revenue, the fund should have enough money to carry it "through probably late July or early August." But Foxx added that, probably in July, DOT will have to start plans to slow down federal reimbursements to state highway agencies for construction expenses.
That's a bit more breathing room than was expected just two months ago. As it looked then, Foxx on Feb. 11 told a House committee DOT likely would have to notify states in June about slower payments. Foxx now says he's concerned the new cushion could give Congress more reason to take the stopgap route.
Foxx's preferred option is the Obama administration's $478-billion, six-year bill, unveiled on March 30. He says, "The problem that's hard to see out of Washington is that short-term extensions are toxic to the kind of large-scale investments we need to be making as a country."
Industry also favors a big, multiyear bill. The Transportation Construction Coalition expects 400 contractors to take part in its fly-in to Washington, D.C., on April 14-15 "to urge the Congress to fix the Highway Trust Fund in a timely fashion," says Jay Hansen, National Asphalt Pavement Association executive vice president. He says industry officials "are getting more concerned about not seeing enough action on the Hill."