Former DOT secretaries urge Congress to act on transportation

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | 7/21/2014

A veritable pantheon of former U.S. secretaries of transportation is calling on Congress to solve the long-term problems facing the Highway Trust Fund. Eleven former secretaries plus current DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx are urging lawmakers in a letter to break the cycle of short-term fixes and put the transportation system on a sustainable path for the long term.

Former secretaries signing the letter were Ray LaHood, Mary Peters, Norman Mineta, Rodney Slater, Federico Peña, Samuel Skinner, Andrew Card, James Burnley, Elizabeth Dole, William Coleman and Alan Boyd. The letter is dated Monday, July 21.

The Highway Trust Fund is the pot of federal money used to pay for transportation projects, stocked with taxes on gasoline, diesel, the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax, tire taxes and the 12 percent excise tax on heavy equipment.

The secretaries acknowledge the steps Congress is taking to shore up the fund with a stopgap bill that would last through May 2015, but says the model of short-term fixes is unsustainable.

“We are hopeful that Congress appears willing to avert the immediate crisis. But we want to be clear: This bill will not ‘fix’ America’s transportation system. For that, we need a much larger and longer-term investment,” the secretaries stated. “On this, all twelve of us agree.”

Together, the secretaries served the Department of Transportation for 35 years under seven presidents.

“Suffice it to say, we’ve been around the block. We probably helped pave it,” they said. “So it is with some knowledge and experience that we can write: Never in our nation’s history has America’s transportation system been on a more unsustainable course.”

The secretaries point out that Congress has chosen to string along shorter-term measures for transportation in recent years rather than pass a traditional five- or six-year bill.

“The result has been an enormous infrastructure deficit – a nationwide backlog of repairing and rebuilding,” the group stated. “Right now, there are so many structurally deficient bridges in America that, if you lined them up end-to-end, they’d stretch from Boston to Miami.”

“What’s worse, the American people are paying for this inaction in a number of ways,” the group said, referring to time spent in traffic and vehicle repairs brought on by rough roads.

“So, what America needs is to break this cycle of governing crisis-to-crisis, only to enact a stopgap measure at the last moment. We need to make a commitment to the American people and the American economy,” the secretaries said.

Click here to read the full letter.

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