Road fund running low, Obama says

Associated Press / June 3, 2009
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WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is warning lawmakers that the trust fund that pays for highway construction will go broke in August unless Congress approves an infusion of as much as $7 billion.

Senator Barbara Boxer, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said at a hearing the administration has told senators the Federal Highway Trust Fund will need an estimated $5 billion to $7 billion to keep current construction projects going.

The California Democrat said $8 billion to $10 billion more will be needed to keep the fund solvent through the year ending Sept. 30, 2010.

Transportation Department spokeswoman Jill Zuckman confirmed those figures.

A decline in driving that began in late 2007 has reduced federal gas tax revenue, the primary source of trust fund dollars.

The trust fund is separate from the $48 billion in transportation projects included in the economic recovery law enacted by Congress and signed by President Obama earlier this year.

Congress approved an emergency transfer of $8 billion in general treasury dollars last fall to make up a projected shortfall - the first time in the history of the program that had happened. The fund dates to creation of the federal interstate highway program in 1956.

Senator George Voinovich, Republican of Ohio, said it's clear that Congress must raise the federal gas tax, which is 18.4 cents per gallon.

"I know that doesn't go down so well with some folks," but it's "the reality of the situation," Voinovich said at the hearing.