CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Congress must soon pass long-term legislation — opposed by scores of conservative Republicans — to improve the country’s infrastructure in order to avoid collapsing bridges and deteriorating and dangerous roads, officials said Monday.
“The Highways Trust Fund is on the brink of insolvency,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said during a day-long conference at the West Virginia Culture Center. “Unless Congress acts by August 1, we will have to implement cost-management procedures and slow down the money coming to West Virginia.
“We do have a solution. It is called the Save America Act. It would bring another $302 million for bridge replacements and fixing potholes [throughout the country]. We need Congress to act.”
Discover the Real West Virginia Foundation hosted the conference. Other speakers included Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va.; Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va.; and West Virginia Transportation Secretary Paul A. Mattox.
“Last Thursday, I learned we are tied with Rhode Island for the worst secondary roads in the nation, including deaths,” Rockefeller said. “We seem to be finding a way to lower our present status [in road maintenance]. Future generations will have to figure it out.”
Rockefeller continued, “To be realistic, I think it will be another one-year patch. There is a climate of fear in Washington today. Nothing is more immobilizing than fear …. After the last election [in 2012], Senator Mitch McConnell [R-Ky.] said, ‘We will make sure nothing passes.’ They have been very effective in implementing their terrible vision about the future.”
For decades, Congress routinely passed six-year laws to finance roads, highways and bridges. In recent years, as the political climate became more hostile, Congress typically only passed last-minute bills to maintain construction funds for a few months.
“We have had 27 patches in the last five years alone,” Foxx said. “If we don’t get a relatively long-term bill done soon, I think it will be a disaster ….
“Today, the average West Virginia spends $270 a year to deal with bad roads,” he said, referring to repairs needed for cars and trucks damaged from driving on deteriorating roads.
Foxx said he sees road and bridge maintenance and construction as key to the domestic well-being and international status of the United States.
“China has paved more cement in the last three years than the U.S. has done in 100 years,” he said.
One way to get additional funds, Foxx said, would be to tax corporations who recently moved their administrative offices abroad to avoid domestic taxes.
Many roads and bridges have not been properly maintained for the last 50 years, Foxx, Rockefeller and Rahall argued.
Most U.S. bridges were designed to last only 50 years. Typical construction standards included repaving roads every 28 years and repairing them every 12 years.
Mattox pointed out that “47 percent of our highways programs are dependent on federal funds.”
Rockefeller voiced harsh criticisms of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in his closing remarks at Monday’s news conference. Ryan came to Charleston on Monday to campaign for Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who is running for the Senate seat becoming vacant because of Rockefeller’s retirement.
“Paul Ryan was visiting West Virginia on behalf of a candidate of the Republican Party. This candidate voted for Paul Ryan’s budget, which would have slashed the dickens out of transportation funds,” Rockefeller said. “I rest my case.”
Last Thursday, the House Ways and Means Committee approved a bill to maintain the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund. Later this week, that bill will come up for a vote before the full House.
The Senate Finance Committee approved similar legislation late last week.
In April, Manchin was named honorary chairman of Discover the Real West Virginia Foundation, which hosted Monday’s conference.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at email@example.com or 304-348-5164.