UT Points Finger at Congress for Lost Revenue, Construction Jobs

Sat January 22, 2005 - West Edition

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) A Utah transportation official blamed Congress for delays in highway construction, saying the failure to reauthorize the Transportation Equity Act has hurt states.

The act allocates highway money collected from the federal gas tax.

More than $300 billion in federal highway money must be freed up and the Transportation Equity Act must be signed by President Bush by April to have much impact this year, Utah Department of Transportation Director John Njord said.

He and three other state transportation directors blamed Congress for states losing big revenue and thousands of jobs.

“In the construction industry, our schedule doesn’t necessarily follow congressional timetables,” Njord said. “Our construction schedule follows the timetable of Mother Nature.”

Utah, like many other states, can only work on highway projects from mid-April to mid-October, Njord said. The failure of Congress to reauthorize the act allocating highway monies collected from the federal gas tax has left states in limbo, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

It’s been almost a year and a half since the last six-year reauthorization expired. Since then, Congress has appropriated highway money on an annual stop-gap basis.

That has hindered states because highway projects are usually multi-year endeavors. The uncertainty of money next year makes it unlikely the states will begin projects this year.

In Utah, the unpredictable funding has delayed I-15 construction in Davis and Utah counties, among others.

“We’ve got 1,700 bridges in Utah, 500 of which need to be replaced,” Njord said. “But we can’t even start until we know what resources we have to pay for it.”

Transportation officials released a report saying the congressional delays have cost the states $2.1 billion and 90,000 jobs.

Njord said reauthorization is needed by April or Utah will lose yet another construction season. It simply takes too long to get highway projects up and running, and Utah is running out of patience, he said.

Utah gets about $220 million a year in federal highway money.

Njord said the issue is not so much how much money Utah or the other states get from the trust fund. It’s guarantees of a six-year cash flow where projects can be started and completed with a certainty there is enough money to pay for them.