The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials is seeking Congressional support for the creation of a fiscal “backstop” for the transportation sector due to the economic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, along with “an immediate and temporary” nationwide waiver of federal truck weight restrictions.
[Above photo by the Virginia DOT.]
The organization said in a three-page letter sent to Congressional leaders on March 18 that in the near term, all modes of transportation – air, highway, transit, rail, and water – are “facing steep declines” in user fee and tax revenues due to reduced travel demand resulting from the Coronavirus outbreak.
“The National Association of State Budget Officers estimated that states collected $111 billion in highway related revenues including motor fuel taxes in fiscal year 2019 and our initial projection estimates up to a 10 percent decline in highway-related revenues for FY 2020 and FY 2021” due to virus-induced transportation bans and reduce travel demand.
“Therefore we request $16.7 billion in federal funding support to state DOTs through the Federal-aid Highway formula program at 100 percent federal share,” AASHTO said. “These revenues are critical for states to maintain the transportation systems that enable the movement of critical goods and personnel to meet the needs of all Americans during this time of crisis.”
AASHTO is also supporting Amtrak’s emergency request for $978 million, which includes $200 million to help offset losses on state-supported routes, for the same reason.
“Federal funding support [is needed] to offset a variety of costs associated with the loss of revenue and ridership and the increased costs associated with limiting operations and the protection of passenger rail workforce and customers” due to the Coronavirus outbreak, the organization said.
AASHTO added that a nationwide waiver of federally mandated maximum vehicle weights is needed to address the freight demand spurred by the ongoing Coronavirus emergency.
“By allowing state DOTs to establish temporary maximum weights under this waiver that accounts for bridge capacities on their highway system, this action will greatly aid in timely interstate transportation of urgently needed medical supply and essential goods such as food and water to address the COVID-19 [Coronavirus] outbreaks,” the organization noted.
Finally, looking ahead to the nation’s eventual recovery from the pandemic, AASHTO recommended that Congress develop a “robust plan” to address highway and bridge as well as transit infrastructure “backlogs” that total $786 billion and $116 billion, respectively, according to the latest U.S. Department of Transportation figures.
“We recognize that the shock to our nation’s economic outlook due to COVID-19 is serious and will require substantial time and effort for recovery to degrees even greater than what was experienced during the Great Recession,” the organization noted.
“Increased investment in transportation infrastructure has time and again proven to provide the optimal boost to the economy during a major crisis,” it added. “Ultimately, by doubling down on transportation investment, American families and businesses will be able to get back on their feet much sooner.”