House plan restores highway money

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By Marty Finley

The U.S. House of Rep­resentatives voted across party lines, 367 to 55, Tuesday to restore cash to the Highway Trust Fund, which is teetering on insolvency.

The trust fund provides money to states for bridge, road and other transportation projects and is expected to run short on money starting next month without a stopgap from Congress.

The Highway and Trans­portation Funding Act infuses the trust fund with $10.8 billion, reauthorizing highway projects through May 31 of next year. The House plan has backing from President Barack Obama and a similar bill is pending in the Senate.

Kentucky already delayed about $185 million in road projects in expectation of lost funding, including the widening of I-65 to six lanes from Elizabethtown to Bowling Green. The trust fund is worth more than $600 million to Kentucky, according to state officials.

Chris Jessie, public information officer for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 4 office in Elizabethtown, said a decision was made earlier this year to push back contracts up for bid on the I-65 project from May to August. Nothing else would change if funding is restored, Jessie said.

“If the House and Senate pass a funding measure, no changes are expected,” Jessie said in an email. “Changes (and delays) with projects will happen if nothing is passed by time the current plan expires at the end of September.”

Jennifer Sherman, communications director for U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie’s office, said the Senate bill would extend funding through May 31 but offers different mechanisms to pay for it.

The House bill proposes transferring money from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank trust fund, using a “pension smoothing” measure giving employers the ability to withhold pension plan contributions and authorizing a one-year extension of customs fees. The plan does not propose raising the federal motor fuels tax, which is 18.4 cents per gallon for gasoline and 24.4 cents for diesel. The tax has not been raised in more than 20 years and is a primary source of revenue for the Highway Trust Fund.

“I’m pleased that the House was able to act in a bipartisan manner to protect key infrastructure projects and jobs across the country, without raising taxes,” Guthrie, R-Bowling Green, said in a statement.

Guthrie said safe and modern infrastructure is a crucial component of American life the country cannot afford to endanger.

“It’s our job to make sure that continues,” he said.

Guthrie’s opponent for the 2nd Con­gressional District seat, Democrat Ron Leach of Brandenburg, has criticized the country for not properly investing in its aging roads and bridges, saying a depleted Highway Trust Fund will destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Local officials also have lobbied for restoration of the fund, saying the I-65 widening is sorely needed to create a safer driving experience between Elizabethtown and Bowling Green. Work is underway for a segment between Horse Cave and Munfordville.