New budget includes TEA-21 reauthorization proposal

The often-precarious state of transportation funding received a $284 billion boost in the Bush administration’s fiscal year 2006 budget request Monday.

The budget’s request for federal transportation funding came in the form of a proposal for reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. The legislation, which provides authority for highway and transit spending, expired Sept. 30, 2003, and has operated under short-term extensions for almost 500 days.

Should Congress approve the new TEA-21 proposal, highway, transit and safety investments would be guaranteed funding through 2009. This proposal was roughly $28 billion more than the funding request the Bush administration recommended last year.

However, many in the transportation industry remain skeptical about the continued health of such funding.

“I don’t think the funding is ever going to meet the need, not out of the federal pot,” said Brian Deery, senior director of the highway and transportation division of the Associated General Contractors of America.

Deery said the funding needs are simply too great to depend on federal funding alone. He said state and local funding initiatives could feed starved transportation budgets, especially in areas where gas taxes haven’t kept pace with inflation.

The increasing popularity of alternative-fuel vehicles that travel up to 60 miles per gallon of fuel also reduces the effectiveness of the gas tax. This, combined with a loss of 30 to 40 percent of purchasing power due to a lack of gas tax increases in the past 10 years, is constraining state transportation projects, Deery said.

“As more and more alternatively fueled vehicles are used, the whole user fee concept needs to be looked at,” he said. “It’s not sufficient to meet the needs.”

Matt Jeanneret, vice president of communications for the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, said it’s too early to determine how much money each state would get in FY 2006 under this proposal.

“We won’t know more specifics until later in the year when a final appropriations bill emerges from Congress,” Jeanneret said.

Disagreement between the administration and Congress on what the six-year funding level should be has prevented enactment of a long-term bill. The latest TEA-21 extention is set to expire May 31.

Patrick Beeson can be contacted at pbeeson@randallpub.com.