Bridge the gap in road repair

Further documenting a long-known hazard in the United States, a new analysis by the industry group the American Road &Transportation Builders Association, found that a vehicle is driven across one of the nation’s 63,000 structurally compromised bridges nearly a quarter-billion times a day.

(There are 66,749 structurally deficient bridges and 84,748 functionally obsolete bridges in the U.S., including Puerto Rico, according to the Federal Highway Administration. That’s about a quarter of the 607,000 total bridges nationally.)

For years now, federal officials, including President Obama in February, have warned that the federal Highway Trust Fund, normally used to pay for roads and transit projects, will be broke by fall without immediate intervention. This month, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx took this message on the road, the Associated Press reported, in an eight-state bus trip, seeking support for congressional action to save the fund and keep federal aid going to states for another four years.

Washington’s Sen. Patty Murray, chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that handles transportation, earlier this month warned her colleagues that the nation faces a “construction shutdown” later this year unless Congress acts, USA Today reported. She called the potential problems with the Highway Trust Fund “another avoidable crisis.”

Everyone agrees something needs to be done, nationally and at the state level. On the other hand, no one wants to pay for it. The two-year, stop-gap funding bill passed by Congress in 2012 ends Sept. 30. Most infrastructure reform advocates are pushing for a 5- or 6-year funding bill that Congress has normally approved, USA Today reported.

The Highway Trust Fund is funded by revenue collected from the 18.4 cent-a-gallon federal gas tax. But the gas tax has not been increased since 1993. Of course it’s not a politically popular idea. But really? No increase since 1993? If only vehicles could run on political cowardice.

Foxx is promoting Obama’s four-year, $302 billion plan to shore up the trust fund with savings from proposed changes to corporate tax laws, AP reported. The White House has said as much as $150 billion could come from its proposal to close corporate loopholes, such as ones that encourage U.S. companies to invest overseas. That certainly sounds reasonable. But closing “corporate loopholes” also always runs into opposition, like raising the federal gas tax, but with wealthier opponents.

Other oft-cited funding ideas include tolls and charging vehicles for miles driven.

With so many options, (knowing none will be popular), surely Congress can find ways to keep the Highway Trust Fund viable, and reliable. Failure to act will mean more than a “construction shutdown”; it will mean another bridge collapse.

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