WASHINGTON -- With time running out, the White House was preparing to press Congress next week to keep money flowing into a federal fund for road and bridge repairs, warning of economic harm, lost aid to states and idled construction workers unless lawmakers act.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has said the federal Highway Trust Fund is expected run dry by late August. Without congressional action, transportation aid to states will be delayed and workers will be laid off at construction sites nationwide, Foxx said.
To that end, the White House will spend next week highlighting the issue and pressing for action. In contrast to President Barack Obama’s 2014 goal to act without Congress wherever he can, the highway funding issue is not one he can solve on his own.
On Wednesday, Obama is scheduled to speak in front of the crumbling Tappan Zee Bridge, a major Hudson River crossing north of New York City, to press for action. A replacement is currently being built for the nearly 60-year-old, 3-mile span at a cost of $3.9 billion, largely financed by bonds that will be paid for through higher bridge tolls.
In New York, Obama will also highlight steps the administration has taken to cut red tape, modernize the federal permitting process and reduce the timelines for approving projects, assistant White House press secretary Matt Lehrich said Saturday.
On Friday, the president plans to discuss infrastructure with workers in the Washington area.
Vice President Joe Biden will also be involved. On Tuesday, he is to tour a project in St. Louis where a pedestrian bridge is being built over Interstate 70 to make it easier and safer for people to get to the Gateway Arch. Then on Wednesday he heads to Cleveland, where an obsolete transit station is being replaced with a new, more energy efficient building. Both projects are federally funded.
The White House plans to open the week by releasing an analysis on Monday on the need to pay for these types of repairs and upgrades.
Senior administration officials will also be sent out to help sound the alarm.
Last month, the Obama administration sent Congress a four-year, $302 billion transportation plan. A highlight includes pumping about $150 billion into transportation programs beyond the money raised through fuel taxes. The additional spending would be paid for by changes to business taxes, including closing corporate loopholes.
The White House push also comes as a bipartisan group of senators, led by California Democrat Barbara Boxer, prepares to unveil a surface transportation proposal.
Obama unveiled his transportation plan during a trip to St. Paul, Minnesota, earlier this year.
The White House would prefer to see Congress adopt the president’s approach, but is most concerned about getting an acceptable, long-term bill that could earn the president’s signature and provide the certainty that cities, states and businesses want to see before they commit to large projects that take years to complete.
Lawmakers in both parties have been reluctant to raise the 18.4-cent-a-gallon federal gasoline and 24.4-cent diesel taxes that are the main sources of revenue for the Highway Trust Fund. Neither tax has been raised since 1993. In the two decades since, inflation has driven up construction costs and the amount of revenue flowing into the fund has lagged because motorists are driving less and vehicles are more fuel efficient. The reluctance to hike the fuel taxes has left the fund constantly teetering on the edge of insolvency.