By GORDON BLOCK
CANTON - A failure by Congress to replenish a federal highway project fund could result in harmful delays to projects across the state, according to U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.
The Highway Trust Fund, which provides New York more than $1.6 billion a year for roadwork, will expire later this year. In the short term, lower allocations to the fund by the end of July will result in smaller payments to states for highway construction.
The federal fund covers about 409 projects statewide, including several in the north country. Without the federal support, Sen. Schumer said, the projects could be delayed, or costs could be put on state and local governments and their taxpayers. Thousands of jobs could be at stake within the state.
“This is too important to fall through the cracks,” he said.
The senator spoke with media in a conference call Wednesday.
Created in 1956 to finance the new interstate highway system, the fund relies on a federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon and a diesel tax of 24.4 cents per gallon. The taxes have not been raised since 1993, and inflation has eroded their value. Increased fuel efficiency, decreased driving and the recession also have helped to deplete the trust fund. Since 2008, Congress has funneled $55 billion from the general fund into the Highway Trust Fund to make up the difference between spending and revenues.
The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that the highway account of the Highway Trust Fund, which allocated $37 billion to the states for highway projects in the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, will run out of money in August unless Congress can come up with a solution before then.
In the absence of intervention by Congress, federal officials plan to implement cash management procedures beginning Aug. 1 that would mean reduced payments to states along with delays in reimbursements.
Sen. Schumer called on lawmakers to fund a “patch” of at least $9 billion, which would fund the program through December, giving them enough time to come up with a long-term solution. The so-called patch would be paid for by tapping surpluses in other funds, he said.
Sen. Schumer said he opposed any kind of increase in the gasoline tax.
In statistics provided by the senator’s office, there are five federally funded St. Lawrence County projects, with construction costs of them listed at $13,133,098.