A Small Breather for the Highway Trust Fund

Today the Senate passed legislation which is the same as the House passed bill that will deposit $7 billion into the Federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF). It is on its way to President Obama’s desk and he is expected to sign it. More detail is here.

This band-aid fix ensures that the states will continue to receive the reimbursements for federal-aid highway projects through the end of the current federal fiscal year ending September 30, 2009.

Last September, Congress added $8 billion to the trust fund recognizing it was a short term fix. I noted before the HTF was going broke due to less driving, more fuel efficient cars and the recession and by spring of this year, we could see the HTF was in need of another infusion of money. In July the US Deputy Secretary of Transportation, John Porcari warned the states of a possible slow down of reimbursements for highway projects. as note here. US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood asked Congress for $20 billion and an 18-month extension of the existing program as we discussed here.

We have written before that the 18-month extension makes a great deal of sense. But with an 18-month extension the HTF needs $20+ billion to carry on the programs. So once again we see a short term fix on the money side but we have not had the real debate on transportation policy. As my colleague Bob Poole suggested, “…..we need (a) thorough, wide-ranging debate, rather than a rush to judgment.”