Debate over how to fund the next federal surface transportation program had top billing at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) 2011 Washington Briefing March 1 - 4.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the Obama administration's significant commitment to infrastructure should be seen as a "jobs bill."

The proposed $556 billion investment includes $50 billion for highways, transit, high-speed rail, and aviation programs and a $30 billion infrastructure bank to provide loans, loan guarantees, and grants for projects with regional and national significance. "I don't know of another time in the history of transportation that a president has put forth such a big vision," says LaHood. The plan would increase funding by almost 130% over six years.

In discussing how the administration would pay for these measures, the Secretary emphasized that in the current economic environment "an increase in the gas tax is not on the table." He also addressed controversial issues, such as funding high-speed and intercity passenger rail projects and allowing states to toll existing federal highways.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, shared Congress' four-point vision for the legislation:

  • Stabilizing the Highway Trust Fund to eliminate the need to occasionally transfer funds from the U.S. Treasury
  • Utilizing monies that haven't been allocated or are attached to stalled programs
  • Creative financing and leveraging
  • Speeding up the way projects are processed.
  • AASHTO'S preparing to work with members of Congress and the Obama administration to approve necessary reforms and set sensible funding levels.

    "This essential legislation will allow states to continue to preserve and modernize the surface transportation systems that individuals, families, and businesses depend on every day. We must get this done," says John Horsley, executive director.

    U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood delivers a keynote address at the 2011 AASHTO Washington Briefing

    Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, delivers a keynote address at the 2011 AASHTO Washington Briefing