As the July 31 deadline for extending highway and transit programs draws nearer, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx feels strongly that another short extension—the likeliest congressional response—won't solve U.S. infrastructure problems.
Foxx told reporters on July 8 that "We've got to break the cycle" of a series of stopgap transportation measures.
During the briefing at DOT's headquarters, he made clear he isn't happy about the prospect of yet another stopgap when the current two-month extension lapses.
"The system is falling apart," Foxx said. "I will tell you that, at current funding levels, ...with the spate of short-term extensions that we've had, we're damaging the system."
Reporters asked Foxx whether he would recommend a presidential veto if the House and Senate were to produce another stopgap.
He stopped short of calling for a veto: "I'm going to withhold final judgment [on that] until I see what Congress brings to the president."
Foxx noted that he has continued to urge the House and Senate "to go long-term to make the investments that this country needs" and hopes that Congress produces such a measure or least "enough of a framework so that we have confidence that [a multi-year measure] is within reach."
Foxx was pressed again on the veto question. He replied, "Look, I'm telling you we've got to break the cycle because what's happening now is not fair to future generations...."
The Dept. of Transportation also released its latest update on the status of the Highway Trust Fund, which showed that the fund's highway account balance continues to shrink. Unless Congress adds more money, DOT projects the account will hit zero in late August or early September.
But DOT can't drain the fund dry—Foxx noted that DOT needs to maintain a minimum highway-account cushion of $4 billion. That point is projected to occur "right at the end of July—and maybe run over until the first couple of days of August," he said.
To prepare for that possibility, he said DOT will start notifying state DOTs during the week of July 13 that the highway account drops to $4 billion, the department would then start slowing down its reimbursements for construction expenses states incur.
Even if Congress produces an extension just through December, it will need to locate an estimated $11 billion to keep the trust fund out of the red until then.
At the end of the briefing, Foxx left, and we reporters were getting up to go. But then he came back into the room and said he had forgotten to give something to us—and then he tossed some Band-Aids on the table.
Just underlining how he feels about temporary transportation remedies.