President’s “Fix it First” Transportation Initiative May Have to Wait

As part of his fiscal year 2014 budget proposal, President Obama called for a new $50 billion investment in our nation’s deteriorating roads, bridges, transit systems and airports. The proposal calls for $40 billion for “Fix it First” projects and $10 billion for competitive grants to encourage innovation in the completion of high-value infrastructure improvement projects.

While few would argue that our nation’s transportation infrastructure isn’t in desperate need of repair, most transportation experts see no chance of these new investments being approved by Congress this year.

The president’s plan also includes a controversial proposal to restructure the Highway Trust Fund, converting it into a larger “Transportation Trust Fund” that also would include dedicated funding for rail. The president’s plan, which includes $40 billion for rail over the next five years, would essentially move the annual funding stream for AMTRAK out of the appropriations process and into the new trust fund.

Given the current fiscal and political climate, these proposals will likely not get much traction beyond the transportation committee hearing rooms. However, the larger issue of how much to invest in infrastructure – and how to pay for these investments – must be addressed when Congress takes up a broader reauthorization of the current surface transportation bill (known as “MAP-21”). Congress will likely hold hearings later this year to solicit new ideas from the transportation community about how to address the transportation challenges of the next several decades.

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