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This Week in Infrastructure: Some Attention for the Highway Trust Fund

March 14, 2014

The USDOT now anticipates the Highway Trust Fund balance will dip below $4 billion by July, in the heat of summer road repair season. As the fund continues to decline, the DOT will be slowing its funding programs, limiting the funding dollars states rely upon to help pay for projects though matching dollars. This week Arkansas announced 10 projects will not move forward in anticipation that the federal matching funds won’t be available, and Georgia shared similar concerns.

The financial cliff the Highway Trust Fund is moving toward won’t just impact roads and bridges. Despite what the name might suggest, it also funds mass transit, which Americans are frequenting more than in the past few years, according to research the American Public Transportation Association shared this week.

Finding the funding to fix the Trust Fund is obviously at the crux of the debate. In a Colorado paper, the editorial board reminds readers “there is a cost to letting our highways turn to rust and dust” and that communal investment in infrastructure is better than the alternative, which is individual investment in vehicle maintenance and the cost of time spent in traffic.

After the winter we’ve seen, vehicle maintenance is certainly a concern because potholes have been problematic enough that Michigan (a particularly hard-hit state, but likely not alone in this) predicts the process to fill them will last until June. New Jersey is even considering a raise in the gas tax specifically to fund pothole repairs. If Congress was looking for a metaphor for the current state of the Highway Trust Fund, or yet another reason to act, then stories like these lend themselves nicely.

Similarly, the tragic explosion in New York highlighted the need for investment, just days after a report estimated the city needs $43.7 billion to bring the quality of its infrastructure to a respectable level.

Rolling Stone is even advocating for infrastructure investment, as it lists crumbling water pipes and roads as one reason America is like a third-world country, echoing Joe Biden’s remarks last month.

As the Highway Trust Fund’s numbers continue going in the wrong direction, at least the awareness of the issue increases. Hopefully, getting attention is the first step in fixing the Trust Fund.

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