U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx visited several critical freight corridors during an eight-state bus tour last week, saying the future sustainability of America’s roadways depends on Congress addressing the infrastructure funding crisis.
The tour, which began April 14 in Ohio and ended April 18 in Texas, highlighted short- and long-term funding needs, as well as generated pressure on federal lawmakers from local officials and commuters.
“I’m traveling across the country all week to highlight projects like this that show the difference we can make if we invest in America and commit to the future — because just fixing what we have today isn’t going to help us meet the transportation needs of the future,” Foxx said in Ohio.
With a federal funding plan in place, “We’ll actually put more money into infrastructure so that we can repair more bridges and build new capacity and help fast-growing areas like Nashville have the assets they need,” Foxx said.
Dave Manning, president of Tennessee Express Inc. and a vice chairman of American Trucking Associations, was among those appearing with Foxx in Nashville.
“This funding crisis can be averted if both Congress and the administration will raise the federal fuel tax and index it going forward,” Manning said.
Manning told Transport Topics afterward that Foxx made a compelling case for infrastructure investment.
“He does a good job of personalizing the pay-it-forward thing — that our parents and grandparents have made sacrifices for us that we enjoy today and we’re not doing the same thing for the next generation,” Manning said.
The U.S. DOT said that if federal dollars were available, rehabilitation work could start on the 1960s-era bridge as well as on five other bridges that connect Nashville’s Interstate 40 Inner Loop.
Tennessee Transportation Commissioner John Schroer, standing by Foxx, said: “If we don’t get funding, the only thing that we we’ll be able to do at the state level is maintain our existing infrastructure.”
Earlier in the week, Foxx visited a $28.8 million project in Columbus, Ohio, the Pickaway County Connector that will connect U.S. 23 and the Rickenbacker Intermodal Facility.
Then, in nearby Dayton, Foxx viewed the work upgrading Interstate 75, a heavily traveled freight route that intersects with Interstate 70.
Kevin Burch, president of Jet Express in Dayton and an ATA vice chairman, was at the event and reported that the secretary emphasized that infrastructure investment is related to highway safety and economic growth.
“He even mentioned truckers in the discussion,” Burch told TT, “saying that more trucks would be needed because the economy is picking up and we need better roads and [need to address] the congestion issues, the safety issues.”
ATA, along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other groups, has said Congress should raise federal fuel taxes and index them to inflation.
But Foxx touted President Obama’s four-year, $302 billion plan to raise money for transportation through tax code changes that include repatriating money held overseas by American corporations to avoid paying taxes.
The country faces two transportation funding crises, the immediate one in the Highway Trust Fund, which is expected to be in the red in August when payment obligations will exceed revenue from the 18.4-cent gasoline tax and the 24.4-cent diesel tax.
The second crisis is MAP-21, the existing transportation funding law, which expires Sept. 30 with it remaining unclear if Congress can agree on a new measure.
In Louisville, Ky., Foxx warned that gridlock in Congress threatens critical transportation projects dependent on the continued flow of federal dollars.
“Part of what we want to do is highlight the fact that highways, transit, all of it is a partnership between states, local government and the federal government,” Foxx said in Louisville.
Kentucky and Ohio, with anticipated federal funds, are rebuilding two aged bridges over the Ohio River that carry traffic in and out of Louisville.
While in Louisville, Foxx also visited UPS Worldport to tour the facility and meet with Scott Davis, UPS chairman and CEO, and other business leaders.
Later, on his blog, Foxx said of the meeting: “What they made clear to me is the scope of the challenge we’re facing when it comes to transportation in America.
“By 2050, we’re going to have to haul an additional 14 billion tons of freight around this country,” Foxx wrote.
During the trip, Foxx also made stops in Atlanta, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Dallas.
Staff Reporter Eugene Mulero contributed to this story.