Route 1 safety improvements from Lewes to Rehoboth may not happen if the federal government can't find a way to increase funding for its Highway Trust Fund, said U.S. Tom Carper.
As a member of the U.S. Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, Carper, a Democrat, said he is pleased the bipartisan committee voted in favor a six-year transportation bill May 15 that keeps federal spending on highways and mass transit at current levels.
The problem is maintaining current spending requires a $20 billion increase in revenue.
The gas tax that supports the fund hasn't been raised since 1993, said Carper. It covers only about $35 billion of the $53 billion in annual federal highway spending. The tax currently sits at 18.4 cents a gallon for gas and 24.4 cents a gallon for diesel.
The committee's proposed legislation would put about $53 billion a year in the federal government's Highway Trust Fund. The fund pays for about 45 percent of what states spend on roads and bridges, but a shortfall in revenue means it is projected to run out of money by the end of August.
“Our states and cities are counting on us to get the job done,” said Carper standing in the Seaside Tanger Outlets parking lot in Rehoboth Beach May 19. “If we choose not to address the funding shortfall with a long-term solution, we will be undermining the ability of our states to do new multi-year projects that are important to local economies and private sector businesses.”
Carper said that while the gas tax that supports the fund has not gone up, the costs associated with maintaining a quality infrastructure system have. Things worth having need to be payed for, he said.
Carper said an increase in the federal gas tax of three or four cents is an option that would help make up the shortfall.
“Is that too much to ask?” he said, pointing to the regular ups and downs of gas prices that are far greater than three or four cents.
Carper's staff provided a list of important Sussex County projects either under construction or ready for bid that would be at risk of losing out on millions of dollars of Fiscal Year 2015 federal funds if the transportation bill doesn't get passed.
Carper staff said the progress on projects under construction could be halted and include the widening of Route 26 ($11.6 million at risk) and safety improvements along U.S. Route 9 ($4.2 million).
Projects ready to be bid that would not be able to move forward include Route 1 pedestrian improvements in Lewes and Rehoboth Beach ($7.4M); and improvements at the intersection of Plantations and Cedar Grove roads, and Postal Lane ($7.1M).
There are several steps remaining in the process of passing the transportation bill, most important is the job of figuring out how to fund the bill, which falls to the Senate Finance Committee. Carper is one of three senators who sits on both the Senate's Environment and Public Works and Finance committees.