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October 13, 2020 2:00 PM, EDT

Rep. Rodney Davis Introduces Highway Funding Measure

DavisDavis at a past event. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

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Legislation meant to provide federal financial relief for state transportation agencies was introduced this month in Congress.

The Highway Relief Act, sponsored by Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), would waive states’ funding contributions in the next two fiscal years for highway projects that normally are subject to cost sharing with the federal government.

The bill would give the U.S. Secretary of Transportation discretion to authorize the federal government to cover a larger share of the costs of transportation projects, up to 100% of the price tag.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has put great financial strain on state government budgets, including state departments of transportation,” Davis, the ranking member on the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, said this month. “My legislation will protect and create new construction jobs and provide a much-needed cash infusion to ensure state highway projects continue as planned.”

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Davis added, “This is just one of many ways the federal government can assist state DOTs. I’d like to thank congressional leaders for including a one-year extension of surface transportation reauthorization in the [continuing resolution], but as we negotiate and debate another comprehensive COVID-19 relief package, we must absolutely include additional relief for state DOTs so we can continue to make investments in our nation’s infrastructure.”

Due to the pandemic, state DOTs have noted a drop in vehicle miles traveled, which results in less revenue from the motor fuel tax. Low revenue could hinder a state from proceeding with matching certain obligations for federally funded projects.

Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, has led the group’s call for federal emergency aid during the pandemic. In a statement linked to Davis’ bill, Tymon said: “While having Congress provide much-needed direct federal funding to state departments of transportation is AASHTO’s top priority in any COVID[-19] relief bill, the ability to utilize 100% federal share for transportation projects is a critical policy provision to help manage state transportation revenues hit hard by the pandemic.”

In a letter to House policymakers this month, Tymon observed, “Despite the enduring uncertainty and ever-evolving nature of this pandemic, the nation’s state DOTs are working tirelessly to ensure the health and safety of their residents, employees and the traveling public. But their valiant efforts alone will not be enough without this critical component of COVID-19 federal funding assistance.”

President Donald Trump recently enacted a continuing funding resolution to fund the government through mid-December. The measure included a yearlong extension of the 2015 FAST Act highway law. The extension of the country’s premier highway law expands a window of opportunity for policymakers to address longstanding challenges about the transportation networks.

For instance, Congress has yet to advance a long-term fix for the Highway Trust Fund, the central account for surface transportation backed by revenue from the fuel tax. The 24.4 cents-per-gallon diesel tax and 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax were approved in the Clinton era.

“This full-year extension of expiring surface transportation programs will provide immediate, desperately needed certainty to state DOTs and transportation and construction industry workers across the country,” Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said last month. “As many stakeholders continue to navigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring that states are capable of planning and executing infrastructure projects and preventing any disruptions to the 2021 construction season will keep Americans on the job rebuilding our infrastructure.”

“With this one-year extension in place, we can continue work on a long-term, transformational bill that significantly boosts investment in our surface transportation network and moves our transportation systems into the 21st century,” added committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).

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