One major topic was surface-transportation funding. With the Highway Trust Fund projected to show a highway-account deficit sometime late in calendar 2014, Foxx said such mechanisms as the expanded TIFIA federal loan program and President Obama's proposed infrastructure bank can provide some financial help. But he said they won't be enough to completely close the funding gap.
Edited excerpts of Foxx's comments follow:
On whether the administration will have a surface-transportation legislative proposal:
For fiscal year '14 the president...has put forward a proposal [to raise revenue from changing the corporate-tax system and devote some of those funds to highways and bridges]. And...MAP-21 is set to expire in FY15 and there's a lot of conversation on Capitol Hill about what to do, long-term.....
I think that we are going to have to add some tools to the tool box. And that's one of the reasons the president has proposed an infrastructure bank, why the Congress expanded programs like TIFIA....But candidly given the scale of need, just to keep our maintenance of effort within the Highway Trust Fund, those things are helpful additions, but I don’t think they’re going to plug the hole.
On increasing the federal gas tax:
It’s a question that I think has to be addressed..as part of a dialogue. And Congress is going to have to have some discussion about it and...I think the president’s put some ideas on the table. There’s a willingness to hear other ideas, but that discussion has to happen.
I think we have to have a very vigorous discussion between the administration and our leaders on Capitol Hill about how to move forward.
[He noted that states such as Maryland and Virginia recently took action to increase their transportation funding.] But there is still a major role for the federal government in this space.
On TIGER grants:
We’re working through our process now [evaluating applications for the latest TIGER round]. We’ve gotten active interest from members [of Congress] on both sides on Capitol Hill, in terms of different projects, and I expect as we turn the corner into the fall we’ll see the announcements coming.
On public-private partnerships:
Foxx said that as mayor of Charlotte, N.C., he “had a lot of opportunities to do public-private partnerships and I don’t have a visceral fear of them….
I think that what we should be trying to do at the federal level is to add as many different tools to the tool kit as we can to try to address what are substantial infrastructure challenges our country faces....
We have to still keep moving forward so the next generation inherits the same [transportation system] strength that we inherited. And public-private partnerships will be part of that mix. I think that’s where the President’s trying to push the conversation with an infrastructure bank and with expanding TIFIA, private-activity bonds, Build America Bonds—all of these things are ways of trying to attract private money in.
But if you go down to the local and the state levels, what you’re seeing are different types of revenue capture—tolling being one of them but you see revenue capture from land development alongside of some transportation assets, and those are all tools that need to be part of the mix.
But what I will continue to impress upon you is that I don’t feel that every single project that needs to happen in this country is one that is going to be attractive to the private sector. There are some that are just public-good projects that don’t spin off revenue that would interest the private sector. So we can’t...have an either-or, we’ve got to have a both-and.