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New Infrastructure Funding Idea

Flexibility might be the fix for the nation's Highway Trust Fund

February 03, 2017

Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), chairwoman of the Senate’s surface transportation subcommittee, unveiled legislation this week that would temporarily take freight cargo and passenger revenue from Customs and Border Patrol and funnel it toward the ailing Highway Trust Fund.

Estimates are the fund, which is financed by federal gas taxes, will be short $107 billion by 2026.

“Funding challenges and the burdensome federal regulatory approval process have delayed infrastructure projects across America for decades. It’s time for a new approach. I’m proud to put forward this legislation, which is modeled after proven successes in accelerating major transportation projects throughout Nebraska. The Build USA Infrastructure Act is a responsible, forward-looking proposal to strengthen roads, bridges, and highways for the benefit of the American families and workers who use them every day,” said Fischer.

Fischer's Build USA Infrastructure Act would divert $21.4 billion annually for five years in order to plug the projected money shortfalls in the fund. The proposed short term legislation targets transportation projects with an eye to get them off the ground faster.

Fischer's proposal would allow states to exchange some of their federal highway funding for greater regulatory control over how transportation projects are approved under federal standards. To help states get projects up and running at a faster pace, the bill establishes voluntary “state remittance agreements” with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).  As part of these agreements, states may choose to exchange a portion of their federal highway dollars for greater control over certain aspects of federal regulatory approval for highway projects.

The bill presented by Senator Fischer says that beginning October 1, 2020 and over a period of five years, the first $21.4 billion of revenue collected U.S. Customs and Border Protection each fiscal year would be deposited into the Highway Trust Fund. The funds would be used for core infrastructure projects.

In return, the state would have more local regulatory control and  would be authorized to determine whether it is in compliance of all federal requirements such as environmental permits, development and construction of the project, and assume responsibility for compliance oversight duties.

TheHill.com says President Trump hasn't signaled if he plans to address the Highway Trust Fund funding gap.

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