Commentary

Highway Funding Still in Limbo

Today, the Wall Street Journal reports that the six-year $450 billion highway authorization bill is unlikely to clear Congress this fall and that an extension of current transportation funding formulas is likely.

While Chairman Jim Oberstar still hoped to have a vote on his bill later this month, a spokesman said the passage by the full congress is unrealistic given Washington’s focus on health care reform and other issues.

The current law expires September 30 and the highway trust fund needs an infusion of money plus the states are facing a rescission, or a turn back of $7.8 Billion of funds by the same date.

An August 8, 2009 article in Congressional Quarterly summed up the uncertainty well.

  • “State transportation officials say uncertainty about future funding is forcing them to foreswear ambitious new projects in favor of simple maintenance and repairs.”
  • “While states did receive a one-time infusion of cash from the economic recovery package, almost all of the money for transportation has been obligated. Most went to “shovel-ready” projects like filling potholes or repairing guardrails.”

Nothing has changed.

The debate will now turn to how long the extension will be. President Obama and the Senate have suggested an 18- month extension, pushing the debate off until after the 2010 elections.

I have written here about the rescissions and here on the previous dire warnings about the highway trust fund. We at Reason have suggested that an 18-month extension makes sense.

My colleague Bob Poole wrote here and recognized the Senates suggested 18-month delay here.

The rescission needs to be addressed and the funding for the trust fund needs to be back filled again to provide enough security for planning projects that make sense. This is no way to run the transportation business in the U.S.

Shirley Ybarra is a former senior transportation policy analyst at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.