WASHINGTON D.C. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is characterizing the current debate on Capitol Hill over how to fund the nation’s transportation needs as a “context problem,” one that requires a “simple message” from those who deal with passenger and freight transport on a daily basis to their Congressional representatives: “Tell the truth.”
Speaking at the annual “Washington Briefing” of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), Foxx stressed that, all too often of late, federal transportation funding is placed in “a political frame” whereby short-term funding extensions are viewed as acceptable solutions.
“But Washington D.C. does not have to respond to the same challenges you do,” he said. “When a bridge fails or when a [highway] project is delayed … that truth is hard medicine. But if we’re not placing transportation in that context, we’re not sharing the unadulterated, unvarnished, unambiguous truth.”
Foxx referenced some of the findings from the Beyond Traffic 2045 report issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation earlier this month, noting that in 30 years the nation’s population will increase by 70 million while truck traffic will grow by 60%.
“That’s why we’ve got to talk about the accumulated effects of the short term [surface transportation] funding extensions and what they’ve done to our [transportation] planning process,” he emphasized.
“Transportation funding levels are inadequate for 2015 much less for 2045,” Foxx (seen at right with AASHTO Executive Director Bud Wright) said. “The CBO [Congressional Budget Office] said that even if we return funding to last year’s level, it won’t do the trick to fund the maintenance we need, much less help us fund the additional capacity we need.”
Yet he also noted that there seems to be more bipartisan willingness on Capitol Hill now, compared to last year, to craft a long-term surface transportation funding bill.
“Congress understands this is a critical moment in time” with the highway trust fund [HTF] expected to become insolvent sometime this May, Foxx pointed out. “I think things are shaping up for something good to happen.”
He added, too, that often where people stand on many different issues relates to there they “sit,” such as whether they are Republicans or Democrats, urban or rural residents, and whether they work at the local, state, or federal government level.
“But on this issue of transportation, we are all sitting in the same place; we are all joined at the hip by transportation,” Foxx stressed.
“And yet we’ve learned to live with its problems,” he added. “But if we keep living with them, then our commutes will go from 30 minutes to an hour, [congestion] will become a drag on economic growth, and our communities will be trapped by the very thing that opens up opportunities. Frankly, I think there’s a strong bipartisan interest in getting something done. But we must stand together and create the right context for a solution.”