As we reported in December, this year’s federal transportation budget includes $600 million in merit-rewarded grants that can go to highways but also to transit and even bike projects, much like the TIGER grants from the stimulus. The WSDOT Federal Transportation Issues blog has wonky details on how this $600 million will get rewarded.

The Democratic leadership in the Senate decided to split its jobs agenda into multiple, smaller voters. Last week, the body passed its first jobs bill with a tax break for new hires to incentivize businesses to hire in the rough economy, extend highway funding, and other small measures. It’s expected that the Senate will considering around $15 billion in TIGER-style transportation grants. That’s well below the $50 billion the administration had floated, but is still encouraging. Merit-based grants are a smarter way of doling out transportation dollar compared to giving money to states based on formulas, since state departments of transportation more frequently fund highways than transit.

While Senate first jobs bill funded the highway trust fund for many more months, but the House didn’t pass the bill this week and instead sent the Senate a measure to extend highway funding for a 30 days (so the House could amend the Senate jobs bill, if it chooses). The increasingly dysfunctional Senate was unable to pass the 30-day extension with a simple voice vote due to one Senator’s objection. Oddly enough, the department of transportation may simply not funded past this Sunday and could actually shut down. The House could vote on the Senate’s jobs bill early next week to continuing funding USDOT.

The highway trust fund needs regular advances from the general fund due to falling gas tax revenue.

7 Replies to “The Feds: USDOT to Shut Down; More TIGER Money”

  1. If USDOT is out of money, why will the Interstate Highway System and all Air Traffic Control (which is Federal) not be completely shut down? Lucky for marine traffic, the US Coast Guard, which operates Seattle (Marine) Traffic Control, is now in the realm of the Department of Fatherland Sicherheit.

    I hope that transit advocates will really pay attention to the bankruptcy of the Federal Highway Trust Fund as we are constantly told that the “Roads pay for themselves through the Gas Tax”. Except apparently they don’t!

    1. The Interstate highway system is operated by the states. I wouldn’t expect it to shut down suddenly.

    2. No, when they say USDOT, they mean the federal offices.

      Roads have never paid for themselves through gas taxes. It was always a mix of funding. Those claims have always been false.

  2. While it is difficult to meet the standard that “roads pay for themselves”, from 1997 – 2007 there were no appropriations to the Highway Trust Fund from the General Fund. The blatant transfer of General Fund money to the Highway Trust Fund only began in 2008.

    The basic problem… raising the gas tax to pay for highways isn’t popular.
    Borrowing money to pay for highways is.

    1. Roads ‘pay for themselves’ depending on how you allocate the gas tax. Take a look at some of your local road projects. Gas tax revenue, on average, pays for about 65% of the cost. You can say Interstates pay for themselves, but the infill has always been done within the local projects.

      Depending on your municipality, the rest can be filled in via other sources. Just go to your local library. On one particular project I found that REET was being used on one project (Real Estate Excise Tax).

      I’d be happy if road projects were built and funded via ballot proposals, living under all the same constraints as Sound Move, sub-area equity, in particular.

      Plus, as far as I’m concerned, paying $300+ a year in state and local gas tax is a healthy tax bill, especially when I don’t have input to how and where it is spent.


  3. The problem is the per gallon gas tax is not tied to inflation.

    Nor is it a percentage of the sales price like sales tax so that if the price goes up, revenues drop as people consume less gas. If the tax was based on a percentage of the price, at least the revenue would go up enough to possibly cover the above losses.

    A very important first step would be to tie the current taxation system to inflation. Then figure out how to replace it as vehicles transistion away from gasoline and Diesel

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