A Step Back Means Two Steps Forward: Highway Trust Fund Rescission Repealed, Paves Way for Transportation Investment

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State departments of transportation (DOT) might be able to breathe easier this weekend. Thanks to the efforts of ASCE members and government relations staff, the Society was successful in the repeal of the $7.6 billion rescission, or cancellation, of unobligated highway contract authority under the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2020. Fortunately, language is included in Section 1702 of the continuing resolution, or “CR”, that repealed this rescission.  The legislation passed the House 231-192, and the Senate 74-20 before heading to President Trump’s desk. ASCE has been advocating for months to abolish this threatening highway funding cut.

If this rescission were to occur, each state DOT would have been negatively impacted by virtually wiping out all remaining contract authority available in core highway formula programs, including but not limited to the Surface Transportation Block Grant program, National Highway Freight Program, Metropolitan Planning, and the Highway Bridge Program. States could have ultimately lost the flexibility to apply their federal funding towards their investment priorities, leading to further underinvestment across our state departments of transportation. Thanks to the strong advocacy effort by our members and other infrastructure stakeholders, this effort was halted.

“The repeal of the FAST Act’s rescission, or cancellation, of $7.6 billion in Federal-aid highway contract authority that was laid out in the stopgap bill is absolutely necessary,” said Marsia Geldert-Murphey, P.E., ASCE Board of Direction member. “It is disruptive for 50 states and our territories to move to the end of their budget period and not have confidence on their budget amounts. Stability is crucial in the funding process of building, maintaining and improving our infrastructure, and this will be a crucial start to removing some of that uncertainty.”

Through ASCE member outreach, broad coalition support, and ‘shoe-leather’ lobbying, language had been included in the CR which ensured state DOTs have the certainty to plan projects for the future. ASCE’s Key Contacts reached over 50 Hill office to urge support for the rescission repeal. Additionally staff led outreach efforts with Members of Congress, sending numerous coalition letters to Congressional Leadership through AASHTO and the Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC), and supported signature collection for the “Dear Colleague” letter asking for the rescission repeal, led by Congressman Pappas and Congressman Young. They also gained cosponsors for H.R. 3612 and S. 1992, and tried to include Senator Barrasso’s Amendment in the last appropriations debate in the Senate. ASCE’s hard work and the collective efforts of its members ensured the needs of the profession are met and that the nation’s roads and bridges are fit for the 21st century and beyond.

Our nation’s investment in surface transportation infrastructure is already lacking the necessary funding to keep conditions safe and effective. The Highway Trust Fund (HTF) – the primary funding source for the federal government’s highway and transit infrastructure – is set to dry up in 2022, currently borrowing billions from the Treasury to maintain the minimum investments necessary for highways across the country.  Transportation infrastructure simply could not have withstood funding cuts when further investment has been a legislative priority for years.

ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card graded America’s infrastructure a “D+”, with Bridges and Roads earning the grades of a “C+” and “D.” These subpar grades are a result of underfunding our highway system for years, leading to a $836 billion backlog of highway and bridge capital needs. The bulk of the backlog ($420 billion) is in repairing existing highways, while $123 billion is needed for bridge repair, $167 billion for system expansion, and $126 for system enhancement. The $7.6 billion rescission repeal will make a significant contribution to raising the grades, leading to more efficient, resilient and safe transportation systems.

We appreciate Congress acting in addressing this critical issue and thank you to all who led the effort!

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