CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday on a bill to keep the federal Transportation Trust Fund in the black at least through Dec. 19. It’s a move to force the U.S. House to pass a bill of their own before the Aug. 1 deadline when the fund goes insolvent.
The bill would provide $8.1 billion for the trust fund. The Senate measure replaces a bill passed by the House last week that provided $10.8 billion for the trust fund extending it until next May.
Mark McConnell, the chief engineer of the Mississippi Department of Transportation and chairman of the federal Transportation Subcommittee on Maintenance, said letting the fund drop to no dollars isn’t an option for Congress.
“If the trust fund goes insolvent, we have to shut off all our projects,” McConnell said.
That’s not just Mississippi but every state in the nation.
The country’s chief maintenance engineers are in Charleston this week for the annual subcommittee meeting. McConnell explained states have been forced to cut way back on road construction because of lack of funding.
“Building a lot of capacity and building new roads has shifted to maintenance because we have to maintain what we build,” said McConnell.
He said even that will become impossible if there’s no federal funds to support repair projects.
U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said Tuesday, “It is equally unacceptable for Congress to continue operating in a crisis waiting until the very last minute to compromise for the sake of the American people. We can no longer afford to maintain this cynical and potentially catastrophic strategy. The Senate bill will require Congress to work on a long-term deal this year, and I urge my colleagues in the House to support it. The American people deserve better, and it’s time for Congress to deliver on our promises.”
McConnell is in full agreement. He said a six-year funding plan is a must if states want to keep their roads in good repair and focus on new projects.
“From a DOT perspective, it’s almost impossible to plan if you don’t have guaranteed funding over a long period of time,” according to the maintenance engineer.
He said a problem that’s popped up in Mississippi is a good example.
“We built, what we call, the 1987 road program which is building a bunch of 4-lane highways all over the state. They didn’t put anything for maintenance in there,” said McConnell. “So we have all these new highways and no money to pay for them. It just builds a logjam of pavement problems.”
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin said Tuesday passing a six-year trust fund program will do more than just improve roads and bridges.
“With more than 38,000 miles of public roads within West Virginia’s borders to oversee and maintain, investing in our infrastructure is one of the best ways to create jobs and boost economic development and prosperity, while also improving the conditions in our local communities,” he stressed.
The House is set to vote on some sort of transportation funding before they head home for vacation at the start of next month.