Schumer pushes for funding plan

MAYVILLE – Federal funding could soon run dry for capital projects underway in New York state if Congress doesn’t come up with a plan.

The Highway Trust Fund, which provides more than $1.6 billion per year to New York state and $35 billion nationwide for highway and transportation construction projects, is set to expire in August.

The House Ways and Means Committee met Tuesday in an effort to come up with a solution for the looming expiration date, while on Wednesday, Sen. Charles Schumer announced a push for his colleagues in Congress to come up with a long-term solution to prevent the lack of funding and keep construction projects on schedule.

“The Highway Trust Fund is too important to New York’s economy, and to our safety, to let it become insolvent,” Schumer said. “Any cutback in funding could be a dagger to the heart of our economy, and I will fight hard to make sure we avoid this at all costs.”

The committee drafted legislation on Thursday to extend the funding into May of 2015, set for a vote next week, which would give the House time to come up with a long-term plan.

If no agreement is reached to continue funding the Highway Trust Fund, New York state could potentially be forced to delay construction projects or choose to foot the bill with local tax dollars.

“State and federal funding is essential for the proper maintenance of our roads,” said Vince Horrigan, Chautauqua County executive. “We certainly appreciate and need all of the funding we can get and encourage our federal officials to work together and come up with a plan.”

Eight federally funded projects are currently underway in Chautauqua County, at a total cost of more than $23 million.

Dunkirk’s Millennium Parkway project totals $6.3 million alone, and is 80 percent federally funded.

Other projects include bridge and roadway repair.

Projects in neighboring Cattaraugus, Erie and Niagara counties total significantly more in terms of costs at $16 billion for a combined 37 roadway projects.

According to Schumer, major portions of 409 statewide capital projects currently underway are federally funded, and failure to reauthorize the Highway Trust Fund would significantly hurt the economy and could impact the long-term safety of infrastructure.

The Highway Trust Fund is a significant source of federal money allocated to states to help fund highway and mass transit construction projects. As long as the fund stays above a certain level, states like New York receive federal funding in the form of a reimbursement for work already undertaken.

For each gallon of gas pumped, 18 cents per gallon goes to the Highway Trust Fund.

This rate has not been adjusted for inflation since Bill Clinton was in office, when he increased the rate in 1993. Additionally, more fuel-efficient vehicles have caused the trust fund’s balance to fall.