PROVIDENCE, RI — U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) today met with Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Michael P. Lewis to discuss the looming Highway Trust Fund crisis. Reed and Whitehouse say urgent bipartisan action is needed to prevent federal transportation funds from running out. The Senators are calling for swift reauthorization of the transportation bill, known as the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act.
The current law that provides federal funding for highway, bridge, and surface transportation projects expires at the end of the fiscal year, September 30. Congress passed the last transportation bill in 2012, a two year bill that provided Rhode Island about $240 million in federal funds per year in 2013 and 2014.
Reed, who serves on the Banking Committee, which oversees the public transportation portion of the bill, and Senator Whitehouse, who serves on the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, which has oversight of the highway portion of bill, are supporting a bipartisan effort to reauthorize MAP-21.
The Senators say Congress needs to act before this summer, when the Highway Trust Fund is projected to run short of the money needed to reimburse states for transportation projects.
“We’ve got a difficult road ahead, but it is absolutely critical that Congress move quickly in a bipartisan fashion to ensure the safety and repair of our roads, bridges, and highway infrastructure. It’s more critical to act now because the federal funding mechanism that pays for much of the roadwork is not generating the revenue that was anticipated and may run dry sooner than forecast. Because Rhode Island relies heavily on federal funding for our roads and bridges, the effects are already being felt as RIDOT tries to make plans for new projects,” said Senator Reed. “Last week, the House passed a budget that would irresponsibly cut transportation funding and put hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk. Instead of partisan gridlock, we need pragmatic solutions. I will work with my colleagues in the Senate to find a more balanced, efficient, sustainable way to improve our roads and help bridge the partisan divide.”
“Strong federal funding for our transportation infrastructure will help to make roads and bridges safer for Rhode Island drivers while also creating badly needed jobs,” said Senator Whitehouse. “I will continue working with my colleagues to make sure the federal government maintains its commitment to these important projects. Rhode Island has a lot at stake.”
There has been bipartisan cooperation on the need to move forward with a comprehensive transportation reauthorization in the U.S. Senate, with Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and David Vitter (R-LA) the top Republican on the committee, along with Tom Carper, (D-DE) and John Barrasso (R-WY), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the committee’s Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, all agreeing in principle to a six year fix. However, instead of investing in our nation’s transportation infrastructure, the U.S. House of Representatives voted for a budget last week that would slash funding for transportation projects next year by $51 billion. As a result, the Center for American Progress estimates 186,000 heavy construction and related jobs would be lost next year under the Republican budget blueprint.