TEMPLE — The lack of permanent funding for the federal Highway Trust Fund could affect future road construction plans for the Texas Department of Transportation, a TxDOT spokeswoman said.
“In order to continue to effectively work with our local partners and plan future projects that will improve safety, address congestion and help with our state’s economic prosperity, it is imperative Congress enact a long-term solution to the looming federal funding situation,” Veronica Beyer, TxDOT director of media relations, said Wednesday.
The Texas Legislature gave TxDOT a tool that will let it borrow money on a short-term basis during the instability of the federal Highway Trust Fund, Beyer said.
“TxDOT will continue progress on active projects to keep Texas transportation moving forward,” Beyer added.
The Interstate 35 expansion project is already totally funded, Beyer said.
For the 2014 fiscal year TxDOT’s $11.1 billion budget included $4 billion in reimbursements from the highway account of the Highway Trust Fund, Beyer said.
By the end of August, the fund is expected to reach a zero balance and states could face an average 28 percent reduction in assistance if Congress doesn’t come to a resolution.
The House voted Tuesday to gather $10.8 billion through pension tax changes, customs fees and money from a fund to repair leaking underground fuel storage tanks. The temporary measure will keep the fund above water through May 2015.
The Senate is considering a similar solution. But none of those is a long-term solution.
U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, issued an email statement Wednesday explaining his view on the funding problems.
“Transportation and infrastructure projects help the local economy to create jobs, grow small businesses and provide Central Texans with a strong quality of life. The bankruptcy of the Highway Trust Fund has been accelerated by the Obama administration’s energy policies and mass transportation projects,” Carter wrote.
“We need to fix this problem in a fiscally responsible way so that we can continue to get hard-working Americans to work, kids to school and products to businesses to help grow the economy. The Highway Trust Fund needs to be funded by a thoughtful and long-term solution that executes those needs, not just another band-aid solution.”
U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, said he and many others don’t believe raising the gas tax is a solution because it doesn’t fully follow the “user pays” system originally built into the fund.
“Vehicles people drive get better miles per gallon and they end up paying less for the miles they travel. Plus hybrid, electric and natural gas vehicles don’t pay using to use the roads,” Flores said.
Many government officials, including Flores, now believe that building roads needs to be the responsibility of the states.
“Without the federal red tape, roads can be built more quickly for less cost,” Flores said. “Without drivers paying the federal gas taxes they pay now, Texas could raise Texas gasoline taxes or come up with new protocols to fund roads.”
In closing, Flores said, “If we do this right, every driver will be paying for the roads.”
The National Highway Administration reported in October the highway fund had a closing balance of $9.7 billion.
The closing balance at the end of the fiscal year was $5.95 billion — down 31.4 percent because of transfers to the mass transit account and other outlays. The balance would have been even lower if not for two transfers from the general fund in October, one for $10.4 billion and the second for $2.2 billion.
In the event of a cash shortfall and inability to fully reimburse states, the National Highway Administration is authorized to take several actions:
Move from daily to weekly reimbursements.
Align reimbursements with trust fund deposits.
Make proportional payments to states based on the available trust fund cash.
The actions taken would depend on what the shortfall is, according to the National Highway Administration.