February 24, 2020 2:15 PM, EST

AASHTO Conference Will Press for Highway Funding

I-395 in Washington, D.CInterstate 395 in Washington, D.C., by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News

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Ordinarily, a multiyear highway policy bill that aims to improve networks nationwide would include a realistic mechanism for which to fund existing surface projects and modernizing provisions.

In the case of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Senate, that hasn’t been the case. A five-year, $287 billion highway bill that advanced out of a Senate committee last year lacked a roadmap for addressing the looming insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund. The same is true for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s team, which last month unveiled a five-year, $760 billion infrastructure plan, and a trust fund fix was not included.

President Donald Trump’s latest ($1 trillion) infrastructure plan, unveiled this month in his fiscal 2021 budget request to Congress, also failed to propose a long-term source of revenue.

Eugene Mulero


Congressional leaders correctly point to the tax-writing committees for not yet having tackled the trust fund’s looming insolvency. The account backs transportation projects with insufficient revenue from the federal fuel tax.

This week, stakeholders have an opportunity to learn the status of the next highway bill directly from the three camps. State Department of Transportation officials are meeting in Washington for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' winter conference. A multiyear highway policy measure is a priority for them. The authorization of highway programs outlined in the FAST Act law expires this fall.

Scheduled to address state transportation officials in Washington on Feb. 26 are the transportation leaders in the House and Senate: Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), as well as Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

“This year we’re asking state DOTs to really focus on the reauthorization of the surface transportation programs. We’ve gone through about a two-year process where we’ve identified what the state DOT priorities are for reauthorization,” Jim Tymon, the group’s executive director, explained in a video promoting the conference.

AASHTO and other stakeholders with significant influence over the reauthorizing process have come out with funding recommendations. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for instance, has a simple pitch: A five-cent increase of the fuel tax over five years. Tom Donohue, CEO of the Chamber, touched on the funding conundrum on Feb. 24: “The bottom line is, why don’t we just tell all of the people on the Hill, if you honestly believe that when you put out this proposal and you want to interest your constituents in an election year that you’re going to work on infrastructure, but you have no intention of providing a way to fund it, that’s more phony news, isn’t it.”

The Week Ahead (all times Eastern)

Feb. 25, 9:30 a.m.: The National Transportation Safety Board hosts a meeting about a 2018 Tesla crash in Mountain View, Calif.

Feb. 25, 10 a.m.: The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee addresses provisions of a highway reauthorization bill with Paul Skoutelas, president and CEO of the American Public Transportation Association; Patrick McKenna, president of the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials; Scott Bogren, executive director of the Community Transportation Association of America; Ed Mortimer, vice president of transportation and infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and Larry Willis, president of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department. (Watch live)

Feb. 25, 8 p.m.: The Democratic National Committee hosts a presidential primary debate. (Watch live on CBS or

Elaine Chao


Feb. 26-27: The AASHTO winter briefing (see above) features addresses from Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

Feb. 26, 10 a.m.: The House Natural Resources Committee meets to consider the “American Public Lands and Waters Climate Solution Act” and the “Trillion Trees Act.”

Feb. 27, 10 a.m.: The Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee meets to listen to lawmakers’ views about water resources policy. (Watch live)

Feb. 27, 10:30 a.m.: The House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee meets with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. (Watch live)

Feb. 27, 1 p.m.: The House Small Business Committee hosts a hearing titled, “Moving America’s Infrastructure Forward.” (Watch live)

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We publish weekly when Congress is in session. E-mail with tips. Follow us @eugenemulero and @transporttopics.

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