February 25, 2015 8:00 PM, EST

Anthony Foxx to AASHTO Members: Push Congress for Long-Term Transportation Plan

Jonathan S. Reiskin/Transport Topics
WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx urged state transportation officials meeting here to lobby their members of Congress on the necessity of passing a long-term surface transportation program that will facilitate expansion of the nation’s economy and population.

In remarks to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials on Feb. 25, Foxx told the group’s membership that senators and representatives need to hear “the unadulterated, unvarnished truth” that not only is the current transportation network “inadequate” for 2015, but even more so for 2045. Foxx referred to his department’s report from February, Beyond Traffic, which makes 30-year growth predictions affecting transportation.

Foxx said the congestion-plagued transportation network has reached a critical point. “We are trapped by the very thing that is supposed to open opportunity for us,” he said.

MORE FROM AASHTO MEETING: DeFazio urges short-term highway funding fix soon

The AASHTO members in the audience deal with the federal Highway Trust Fund on a daily basis. Scott Bennett, director of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, said much of his state’s spending gets reimbursed at a rate of 70% from HTF.

The current legislative extension for HFT expires May 31, and there is no replacement in place. Therefore, Bennett said, Arkansas already has  pushed back $60 million worth of projects.

“This is a very important issue for all of us,” Bennett said of the 50 state transportation departments.

Foxx’s remarks were akin to a pep talk to athletes. He began his speech by quoting Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, and Foxx’s speech came right before the officials adjourned for meetings with senators and representatives from their states.

AASHTO President John Cox of the Wyoming DOT said while introducing Foxx that his group’s members would “appreciate a temporary extension” compared with the trust fund’s collapse, but the nation “really needs a long-term bill with sustainable funding.”

Bud Wright, the group’s executive director, said he agreed with many of Foxx’s remarks.

“We’ve gotten the attention of members of Congress, including the leadership, on the issue’s importance,” Wright said.

“The argument is not like a year ago. People are not talking now about devolution and whether the federal government should be involved [in transportation]. We’re in a different place,” he said.

Wright said he appreciates the difficulty of tax increases for Congress and said while AASHTO supports a six-year surface plan, it has not endorsed a specific funding plan.