WASHINGTON, DC - With just three days left before the federal government began slowing transportation reimbursements to Rhode Island and other states nationwide, the U.S. Senate tonight passed legislation 79-18 to keep federal highway money flowing.  U.S. Senator Jack Reed voted to extend federal infrastructure investments in highways, bridges, and public transportation until next spring to help prevent a construction slow down during busy summer months.

The Senate-approved legislation will keep the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Highway Trust Fund solvent for a few more months, with the hope that Congress can pass a bipartisan long-term fix by the end of the year.  Without Congressional action, DOT officials declared the Highway Trust Fund was set to essentially run out of money at the end of this month, which would have caused federal reimbursements to states for on-going highway projects to be significantly curtailed. 

“Our transportation infrastructure helps drive our economy.  This is not the preferred long-term solution we need, but it will alleviate uncertainty in the short term and help keep the highway trust fund solvent to avoid a costly shutdown of work on our highways, bridges, and transit systems.  We simply can’t afford a virtual shutdown of construction throughout the country,” said Reed.  “We need a viable, sustainable funding stream for our roads, bridges, and transit systems.  Congress needs to work together to keep construction workers on the job, keep our economy moving, and keep these much needed road repairs on track.”

For decades, the federal Highway Trust Fund has supported repairs, maintenance, and new construction of roads, bridges, and public transportation across America.  The Trust Fund’s primary source of revenue comes from the 18.4 cent-per-gallon federal gasoline tax and a 24.4 cent-per-gallon tax on diesel fuel.  The challenge now is that the federal gas tax, last adjusted in 1993, doesn’t generate nearly enough money to cover current highway spending.

Rhode Island relies heavily on federal funding for surface transportation projects, and this highway trust fund crisis is already being felt at the local level.  The Rhode Island Department of Transportation has already put 20 projects valued at $67 million on hold because of the funding uncertainty. 

“We need to end the partisan gridlock and provide our economy with more certainty.  These types of short term fixes force many states to wait in a very costly holding pattern. Only a bill that invests significant resources over multiple years can provide this certainty for states and help get new projects underway,” concluded Reed.

The bill now goes to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration.