Highway Trust Fund going broke?: TDOT’s John Schroer explains impact on Tennessee
by JOYANNA LOVE Banner Senior Staff Writer
Jul 10, 2014 | 1809 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
John Schroer
John Schroer
The Cleveland Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization heard from the Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer during a meeting Wednesday.

“As of Sept. 30, there is no transportation bill and the money will run out even before that,” Schroer said.

The impact of this would mostly be felt next year. Schroer said if the federal government does not put additional money into the Highway Trust Fund, revenues received by the state would be decreased by about 30 percent. He said after Aug. 1 the only money that will be distributed to the state departments of transportation will be a division of what is taken into the trust fund.

“Twice a month they are going to figure out how much money they get and we are going to receive 2.14 percent,” Schroer said. “Starting Aug. 1, when we submit a bill we will only get 70 percent back.”

In some sates, this will mean projects that receive federal funding cannot be completed.

“The Congress has been funding transportation from the general fund for the last five years … about $55 billion over the last five years that they have kicked in,” Schroer said. “Right now, we get about $32 billion into the Federal Highway Trust Fund and we have been spending $44 to $45 billion. We have been obligating that much.”

This money comes to the local government mostly in the form of grants or TDOT joint projects.

Schroer said if the federal government had been running the trust fund only on revenues it received, Congress would not be faced with this issue now. However, to switch to that plan of action now would mean no funding would be going to new projects next year because it would go to fund projects from this year that were committed to, but had not received funding.

There is proposed legislation in both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate that would address this issue. The Senate proposal would raise the gas tax over the next two years to bring in the additional revenue needed. The House bill would commit $10 billion to the fund as a short-term solution over the next 10 years.

Schroer said both would only be short-term solutions and would need to be addressed again in the future.

The commissioner said Tennessee had “such great roads” because most of its income goes to road projects.

“The citizens are getting a good value for what they pay,” Schroer said.

In gathering information from elected officials and the public, maintaining current highways was the main concern.

During Wednesday’s session, the MPO executive committee also approved an amendment to the Transportation Improvement Program to purchase three mini-buses for the Cleveland Urban Area Transit system and an amendment to the Urbanized Area.

The funds for the amendment will come from the Federal Transit Administration. The changes to the UZA update the area based on census data and projected growth. The committee also approved gathering public input on the Unified Planning Work program.

Each of these issues had been discussed by the MPO technical coordinating committee earlier in the day.

MPO Coordinator Greg Thomas gave an update on the Multi-Modal Access Grant for sidewalks and buses. Thomas said the city could not get approval from Walmart to build a bus shelter on the company’s property, so that will shelter will not be built. One or two bus shelters are expected to be completed. Thomas said the sidewalk work should begin in about a year.

“I think all the public input we have had has been positive,” Thomas said.

He said methods to reduce the project cost are being explored.

The technical committee also approved a memorandum of understanding with the Chattanooga Transportation Planning Organization to coordinate messages, such as fog or traffic warnings, on the intelligent transportation system signs of both areas.