Finding Highway Compromise ‘Tough,’ DOT Secretary Says

Divisions in Congress over boosting funding for bridge repairs and highway construction are making it difficult to pass a long-term measure in time to prevent a disruption in existing road projects, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.

“I would say that we have a tough, a tough challenge ahead of us that hasn’t been solved for a long time,” Foxx said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend.

The Highway Trust Fund, financed by gasoline and diesel taxes, may soon not be able to meet its financial obligations, according to Foxx’s agency. The Obama administration on April 29 sent legislation to Congress proposing $302 billion for road and mass transit projects over four years, with part of the money coming from new taxes on company earnings overseas.

Foxx declined to say what he thinks the odds are that Congress will pass that measure or an alternative before the impending shortfall begins prompting states to halt or delay projects, which he said would be as soon as June or July.

“There is a lot of consternation about this,” he said. “And there has been for several years.”

Foxx said he has been encouraged that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, proposed a similar tax boost on businesses to fund highway construction.

“We think that there’s bipartisan interest in this, but we’re going to be continuing to work the Hill as much as we can,” Foxx said. “There’s a lot of symmetry.”

Business Support

Some businesses relying on the ground transportation network and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce support reaching a solution and are expected to ratchet up lobbying, Foxx said.

A short-term fix for the trust fund, extending current funding levels and giving it an infusion of cash, is also under discussion in Congress, according to Camp and other lawmakers.

Foxx said the administration’s proposal, which would boost the highway fund by $87 billion above current levels, is needed to improve the nation’s infrastructure and boost the economy.

During a bus tour across the country last month, Foxx said, he saw evidence of the need for more spending.

“I was in Nashville, Tennessee, and I saw -- we talk about crumbling bridges -- I saw one, concrete literally falling onto the underpass below, threatening auto traffic,” he said.

The administration is also moving forward on setting new safety standards for rail cars carrying crude oil, he said.

‘Jury’s Out’

A DOT proposal, which hasn’t been released, is being reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget, Foxx said. It includes requirements for more crash-resistant rail cars, restrictions on the speeds trains may travel and provisions on emergency response to rail accidents, he said.

On the recall this year of 2.59 million General Motors Co. cars due to faulty ignition switches linked to 13 deaths, Foxx said he wasn’t prepared to say whether the company had improved its culture.

“Well, the jury’s out,” Foxx said. “We are still investigating many parts of this entire situation.”

Foxx, a former Democratic mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, said he remains optimistic that his home state will eventually return to the more moderate politics that dominated it before Republicans took control in 2012 elections.

“It’s just that right now, they’re -- they’ve got a group in there that’s gerrymandering districts and continuing to try to limit the electorate,” he said.

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