It's no secret highways are in desperate need of funding. Our roads and bridges have been struggling to keep up with proper maintenance and repair for years and the Coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. With people around the country driving less due to stay-at-home orders, gas tax revenues continue to dwindle and states are already starting to delay or even cancel 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. Tymon stated that Congress cannot be complacent due to this lag in revenue impact and that it needs to pass AASHTO’s request for a nearly $50 billion fiscal “backstop” to buttress state DOT budgets.
At least one member of Congress listened.
13th District Congressman Rodney Davis, R-Il. has introduced a bill to keep infrastructure projects in the country moving despite uncertain state and local revenues. Davis introduced the Highway Relief Act to Congress which would empower the Office of the Secretary of Transportation to 100% fund federally-funded highway projects, waiving the state and local share of those projects. In a press release, Davis cited the great financial strain placed on state and local government’s budgets due to COVID-19.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has put great financial strain on state government budgets, including state departments of transportation,” said Davis. “My legislation will protect and create new construction jobs and provide a much-needed cash infusion to ensure state highway projects continue as planned. 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 CR, 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.”
Davis says he hopes the bill will protect the creation of new construction jobs and ensure the much-need highway projects will continue. Davis also says it’s crucial that state Departments of Transportation can still receive funding for the continued investment in the country’s infrastructure.
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.”
Unfortunately, this bill has only a 2% likelihood of passing according to GovTrack.us but we hope they're wrong.