Inhofe: Federal road funds in danger
BY JIM MYERS World Washington Bureau
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
6/12/09 at 1:27 PM
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe said Tuesday the federal fund that helps pay for highway projects once again will go broke by August, forcing Oklahoma to cancel up to $80 million in projects.
Other road projects that already have broken ground could be delayed, the Oklahoma Republican said.
"Clearly this would have a detrimental effect on the economy and will negate any gains made by the stimulus,'' he said in a statement released during a confirmation hearing for Victor Mendez to be the next head of the Federal Highway Administration.
A spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation called the situation alarming.
Terri Angier said just as alarming is the lack of notice by federal officials, citing the notice states received last year when a similar problem surfaced.
That problem was averted after billions were transferred back to the trust fund.
Asked about the $80 million figure, Angier said, "It doesn't sound out of range. It could be right,'' adding that last year the $8.6 billion shortfall would have affected more than $120 million in Oklahoma projects.
Angier said ODOT could not say which specific projects would be hit this time around.
"We have no idea at this point,'' she said.
A written statement issued by ODOT warns an immediate halt in spending could jeopardize the agency's entire eight-year construction program.
"Federal dollars pay for about 85 percent of transportation construction in Oklahoma, while state revenues are focused on day-to-day repairs and routine upkeep,'' the statement reads.
It cites reduced travel, higher energy prices and increased fuel efficient cars as reasons for the shortfall.
Projects funded by the federal stimulus package are not expected to be impacted, according to ODOT's statement.
Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, called for swift action by Congress and the Obama administration to fix the Highway Trust Fund.
He declined, however, to endorse a specific solutionin an interview away from the committee hearing on the Mendez nomination.
Inhofe again stressed that he opposes raising the federal gas tax to increase revenue generated for the trust fund.
Both Inhofe and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the committee, said the trust fund would need up to $7 billion to remain solvent through September.
"An additional $8 billion to $10 billion will be required in 2010,'' Inhofe said.
The current transportation bill expires this fall.
Jim Myers (202) 484-1424
WARNING OF LOSS
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe: "Clearly ... a detrimental effect."