Transportation Policy Academy 2016—Joung Lee, American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials

Joung Lee is the policy director at the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials in Washington, D.C. He was among the presenters at a policy roundtable CSG hosted on May 19 as part of the 6th Annual CSG Transportation Leaders Policy Academy in Washington. He spoke about the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act approved by Congress last year and its impact for states as well as the need for Congress to find a long-term solution to the solvency of the federal Highway Trust Fund.

On FAST Act funding levels…

“There weren’t that many really groundbreaking policy changes (in the FAST Act) but on the funding side it provides about 93 percent of all its dollars. So $305 billion is the total amount of funds provided or authorized but $281 billion of that amount over five years is guaranteed by the Highway Trust Fund. Of that, about 93 (percent is) going to meet the states’ needs. The other 7 percent is (going to) what’s known as allocated programs, so national parklands and federally owned lands and the like and just general administration of the Federal Highway Administration and things like that.”

On the importance of having a long-term bill…

“The other really key aspect of the FAST Act is the fact that we actually have a long-term bill. This was really a long time coming because the last time we had a multi-year transportation bill in the length of about five to six years … (was) SAFETEA-Lu legislation passed in ’05 and expired in ’09. … After that, the Highway Trust Fund has started to run out of money. It’s a trust fund. It exists because it only spends what it brings in.”

On Congress’ reliance on General Fund transfers to shore up the federal Highway Trust Fund…

“This has become unfortunately a normal part of how we’re paying for the Highway Trust Fund projects. … $70 billion is not chump change out of the $281 billion Highway Trust Fund portion of the FAST Act to come from the General Fund, not to be tied to any sense of how much use of the roads takes place and is paid through the fuel tax and truck fees and the like is a real problem because the Highway Trust Fund allows the highway programs and transit programs supported by it to be firewalled from the rest of the very chaotic and increasingly restrictive federal budgeting and appropriations process.”

On how the gap between gas tax receipts and spending levels will grow under the FAST Act…

“By 2020, when the FAST Act expires, it’s going to be about an $18 to $20 billion gap between the receipts and revenues … and the hole is only going to get deeper and when you project it out, it’s only going to be a bigger and bigger problem going forward.”

On the breathing room the FAST Act provides for a conversation to happen on a sustainable funding source…

“Even if $305 billion isn’t anywhere near enough … and the cost of construction has outpaced the general rate of inflation as well. (The FAST Act) doesn’t really solve obviously all of the infrastructure needs and the demands that are out there. But it does provide us a little bit more breathing room to make the kinds of really hard decisions that we have to make by 2020 in the context of the federal program because … the money really will run out by then and we’re not going to be able to just continue depending on totally unrelated sources of money to prop up the trust fund.”

Further Reading