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Obama to outline plan to fix crumbling U.S. roads, rail, bridges
President Barack Obama will announce on Wednesday a $302 billion plan to fix the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges, but the proposal, which relies on tax reform for funding, is not expected to gain traction in Congress.
Congress faces a Sept. 30 deadline to renew federal funding for transportation programs, and the Highway Trust Fund that helps pay for road and bridge projects is teetering on insolvency, making it difficult for state governors to plan projects that typically run through September and into the fall months.
Obama’s four-year plan relies on revenues raised by ending some tax breaks to free up $150 billion for transportation. That would only happen through corporate tax reform, a political long shot ahead of November midterm elections.
Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner told reporters that a bailout for the highway fund likely would be out of the question for his caucus.
“Meeting with the president yesterday, this is one of the issues that was discussed. We’ve got to find a funding mechanism to fund our infrastructure needs,” Boehner said.
“I wish I could report to you that we’ve found it, but we haven’t.”
Even Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, head of the committee that oversees work on the highway bill, said on Wednesday that Obama’s plan was not likely to pass Congress.
“I think it’s good, but I don’t hold out hope for it,” Boxer told a conference of state transportation officials in Washington.
But Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters traveling with Obama that it was important for all sides to start talking about how to avert what he called a transportation funding “cliff.”
“There will be voices that say one thing or another can’t get done,” Foxx said. “I think the most important thing is that the ideas need to be put on the table.”
Obama’s plan would fill the gap in the Highway Trust Fund, and also invest an additional $90 billion in infrastructure projects, Foxx said.
Separately on Wednesday, the top Republican tax writer in Congress proposed a tax reform overhaul that included dedicating $126.5 billion to the Highway Trust Fund for infrastructure investments over eight years.
In his plan, Republican Representative Dave Camp said the money for infrastructure would come from reforms in the tax code.
The White House said Camp’s approach was encouraging. Obama is set to give a speech on the issue later on Wednesday after touring an operations and maintenance center for Metro Transit, the system of buses, light rail and commuter trains serving the Minneapolis-St. Paul “Twin Cities” region.
In St. Paul, Obama also will launch a competition for $600 million in grants for transportation projects through a program that leverages funds from the private sector and state and local governments. The spending has already been approved by Congress.
It is the sixth round of grants for the program, called Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER), which so far has given $3.5 billion to 270 projects.
By Roberta Rampton
American Journal of Transportation
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