New report warns that funding for transit & highway projects in U.S. in peril


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The Tampa/St. Petersburg area would lose out on more than $70 million in funds to maintain and improve their transportation networks if and when the Highway Trust Fund goes broke this summer, according to a report released today by the D.C.-based Transportation for America.

The federal Transportation Fund is expected to be exhausted in July. That shortfall is a result of lower than expected collections of revenue from the 18.4 cent gas tax that has not changed since 1993, despite rapidly rising construction costs. The trust fund will need an influx of $100 billion over the next six years just to maintain transportation spending levels. The primary sources for the fund are federal gas and diesel taxes, whose rates haven’t increased in 20 years.

America is at a crucial decision point for transportation,” said James Corless, director of Transportation for America. “But there is a ray of light: The crisis presents an opportunity, because it comes at the same time as Congress must update the federal transportation program, MAP-21. We believe we have a chance to resuscitate and reinvigorate the program in exciting ways, so that it better suits the needs of people in the communities where they live.”

Congress last approved a transportation bill in the fall of 2012 — it expires on September 30. There are a number of reasons why the trust fund has been dwindling in recent years. They include:
The number of miles being driven per person in the United States stopped growing over the last decade and appears to be in decline.

When the economic downturn hit in 2008, driving took an even greater hit as the high unemployment rate led many people to reduce their driving even more

Vehicles are becoming more efficient, traveling more miles on fewer gallons of gasoline
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was in Dallas recently, where he said that  even if the highway and mass transit accounts are funded for the immediate future, the lack of long-term funding will undermine the country’s economic power.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe says that he's confident that Washington will figure out the funding process, and says locally it's important the county be ready to "work with the state dollars and then leverage that money for federal dollars so we can move our projects forward. So we just have to be ready."

Officials with both HART and PSTA have said that they may have trouble maintaining their current level of bus service if federal funds begin to dry up in the coming years. Officials with HART have been quite explicit about that. 

In the case of Pinellas County, the Greenlight Pinellas initiative would bring in an estimated $100 million in new funding each year, based on swapping out the current funding from property taxes and moving toward collecting a one-cent sales tax.

 The federal government funds 39 percent of the state's capital transportation projects, which actually ranks on the lower side (Alaska, for example, relies on the feds for over 93 percent of their capital projects). That still comes out to over $2.2 billion, however.

Yesterday, Transportation Secretary Foxx submitted a $302 billion, four-year road transportation bill.


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