By Gregory Korte, September 9, 2014
WASHINGTON — With a short-term fix papering over a shortfall in the
highway trust fund, the Obama administration is looking for more
creative ways to build and fix the nations's roads and bridges.
For many drivers, that could mean more tolls.
Treasury and Transportation departments convened an "infrastructure
summit" in Washington Tuesday to bring together investors,
philanthropists, construction firms and state and government agencies.
Obama called for the summit in July while appearing at the I-495 bridge
in Wilmington, Del., asking his Cabinet to get more involved in finding
creative financing for those projects because Congress has not passed a
long-term extension of the gas tax.
The $10.8 billion highway
bill Obama signed in August keeps the highway trust fund solvent for 10
months by using a budgetary maneuver called pension smoothing, which
indirectly takes the money from corporate pension funds.
Officials estimate that the nation will need $1 trillion to maintain
its transportation, water, and electricity systems between now and 2020.
Secretary Jacob Lew said the Treasury Department is launching a study
that will try to identify the planned transportation and water projects
that will provide the biggest economic boost. .
Lew said budget
shortfalls at all levels of government "make it all the more important
to come up with fresh, innovative ways to unlock capital and get more
projects underway. That means we have to work more closely with the
private sector and channel more private investment into infrastructure
For many motorists, that could mean that future new
lanes on congested interstates could be financed by tolls. Drivers would
have a choice between the slower free lanes and the faster toll lanes.
officials at the summit were bullish on these public-provate
partnerships, but are worried about "tolling fatigue."
the time, a toll road provides an alternative," said James Bass, chief
financial officer of the Texas Department of Transportation. "As it kind
of grows and grows, we may find ourselves where it's not an
alternative. It may be the only solution in some areas."
Secretary Anthony Foxx announced three projects Tuesday that he held
out as examples of what the Obama administration was trying to
• A $950 million to Florida for the I-4 project, a 21.1
mile roadway through Orlando, that will add four express toll lanes and
replace or improve 15 interchanges and 71 bridges. The public-private
project is the largest loan ever approved under the Transportation
Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.
• An allocation of $1.2
billion in federal bonds to help Pennsylvania engage in an ambitious
plan to replace 600 bridges in 42 months. By bundling the projects
together, the administration says it can streamline financing and
• A $20 million grant program for planning commercial and residential developments near mass transit hubs.
"We're putting two feet into this effort already," Foxx said.