Original post written by Shuktika Maheshwari
Pressure is building on Republican and Democratic leaders in the U.S. Congress to find a permanent solution for the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). The May 31 deadline to extend highway and transit funding has now been extended by two months to July 31, 2015. On May 23 the U.S. Senate approved legislation (H.R. 2353) that would extend the authority for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to spend funds from the HTF until July 31. The House and the Senate Tax Committees stated they would have preferred an extension that lasted through the end of the calendar year.
The Utah Transportation Coalition hosted a federal reauthorization update luncheon on Tuesday, May 26, that was well attended by stakeholders from various organizations and representatives from Senator Hatch’s office, Utah Transit Authority (UTA), and Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT).
Utah’s Senator Hatch has played a pivot role in discussions surrounding a long-term bill, and is clear on the plan to use the next two months to find a path forward after another short-term extension. Although these short-term extensions do not seem very helpful, they nevertheless provide additional time to work on a long-term HTF plan. It is expected that the Congress will use this two-month extension to make meaningful and demonstrable progress toward a multi-year transportation bill.
Michael Allegra, General Manager, UTA mentioned that lack of adequate federal funding is holding back the long-term plans for enhancing the transportation infrastructure needed to meet the demands from its growing population. The demand for public transportation is on rise as is evident from the fact that nearly 45 million people rode UTA-run buses and trains in the year 2014. He also said that state-led transportation improvement projects can be completed at the same pace as federal projects of similar magnitude and complexity, much to the credit of Utah’s transportation talent and stakeholders.
Federal funds account for nearly 24% of UDOT budget and play a crucial role in financing its low-risk asset management projects like pavement preservation. While aggressive capacity management projects have ensured timely maintenance of Level 1 roads, the condition of Level 2 roads has declined due to lack of adequate funds.
In 2015, the Utah Legislature passed HB362 which include an increase in the state’s motor fuel tax that is expected to fetch an additional $55 million that will help bring the Level 2 roads to a sustainable condition. However, the deadline extension from May 31 to July 31 is expected to cause 25% of UDOT’s 2015 projects to be deferred to 2016, an impact of $65 million. Simply put, this will cost us not only in the near-term will less projects for the contracting community, but will hamper the broader economy as projects set to alleviate delays or improve road conditions deteriorate for another year.
UDOT expressed their desire for i) a long-term bill, ii) sustainable funding, iii) a performance and results based program, iv) project delivery streamlining, and v) maintaining the core principles of a federal-state program. UDOT also expects the reauthorization bill to include provisions for conducting studies on feasibility of alternative tax codes like mileage tax. UDOT’s Policy and Legislative Services Director, Linda Hull also said that going forward UDOT should engage in more outreach to the Utah Transportation Coalition to ensure that the coalition has access to updates and information that will better inform and drive their advocacy efforts.
About HB 362
The Utah State Legislature passed the HB 362 Transportation Infrastructure Funding during 2015 General Session. H.B. 362 is a comprehensive approach to addressing part of the funding shortfall identified in Utah’s Unified Transportation Plan. The bill reforms the state gas tax and authorizes a local option transportation sales tax to allow for priority investments in state and local roads, transit and bike facilities. It will help Utah preserve our current infrastructure and accommodate our projected population growth.
About the Utah Transportation Coalition
The Utah Transportation coalition is an established, long-term organization advocating specifically for transportation infrastructure investment. The Coalition is a strong voice for continued investment in Utah’s transportation system and is an advocate for community-led objectives and key projects.