Highway bill is ‘inadequate,’ DOT chief says; He pushes for more multimodal grants, infrastructure bank…
“In Washington, we all know what needs to be done in transportation,” LaHood said. “We need to find $500 billion.”
That’s the amount of surface transportation spending proposed by Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-MN., last year in his multi-year infrastructure bill.
There’s no consensus in Washington on how to raise that money, however, and LaHood said the federal government needs to look beyond traditional means — depending on the fuel taxes that support the Highway Trust Fund.
“The surface transportation bill is inadequate to fund all our needs,” he told shippers and carriers at the National Industrial Transportation League’s transportation freight policy forum in Arlington, Va.
At the NITL forum, LaHood outlined an emerging infrastructure funding policy that cuts across modal lines established decades ago and perpetuated in federal spending laws such as the highway bill.
That policy includes greater reliance on federal TIGER grants and an infrastructure bank focused on “significant” multimodal projects.
That means the Department of Transportation would decide where and how that money is spent, rather than Congress or the states.
“The value of the TIGER grants is that there are no filters,” LaHood said. “The money goes straight to the people who applied for it. They don’t have to go through a state transportation department.”
DOT awarded more than $600 million in TIGER grants to freight projects last year, and is preparing a second round of grants authorized by Congress.
“If Congress continues to provide this opportunity, we’ll go for it,” said LaHood.
With the surface transportation bill likely to remain stalled in Congress until at least next year, “We need creative, innovative thinking, rather than just thinking about the Highway Trust Fund,” LaHood said.
That’s a view that makes many shippers and carriers nervous — especially those who rely on the road network supported by the Highway Trust Fund.
LaHood told them not to worry.When it comes to the importance of freight transportation, including trucking, to the economy, “We get it,” he said.
“Goods movement is part of a larger system,” said LaHood, and “The better connected the parts, the better the system as a whole will be.
That includes trucks, rail, ships, barges and planes, he said. “This administration is committed to investing in multimodal transportation.”