U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx sees the need to put a long-term plan into place to pay for bridge, highway and transit projects across the country, and he said Thursday the administration would like to do more to help the Interstate 74 bridge project.
Foxx, who was in the Quad-Cities for a few hours at the invitation of Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., got a close up look at the I-74 bridge, meeting in Bettendorf's Leach Park with Bustos, Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, and local officials.
There, they took a look at the underside of the span before traveling across the bridge to Moline, where an Iowa DOT official briefed the secretary on phasing and construction plans for the I-74 corridor.
Like his predecessor, Ray LaHood, who two years ago called the bridge "one of the worst" he had seen in America, Foxx wasn't impressed with its condition.
"I've been on the job for about nine months, and so far I'd probably agree with him," he said.
The Iowa and Illinois departments of transportation say the states are committed to funding the new span, but they and local officials also hope to acquire additional federal funds for the corridor, which stretches from John Deere Road to 53rd Street.
In recent years, they've been stymied in getting additional federal money. The last short-term transportation law authorized a program for large projects such as I-74, but it has not been funded.
Foxx noted the $75 million federal investment that has been made so far in the corridor and added, "We do hope to be supportive of that as time goes on."
He said, however, the short-term extensions are making it more difficult to plan, and in the nearer term, the Highway Trust Fund, the main funding vehicle for transportation projects, is expected to be insolvent by August or September.
That pending insolvency has transportation planners worried.
Over the past five years, Congress and the White House have approved short-term extensions. There also has been no agreement on how to fund future projects.
There is resistance in Congress to raising the gas tax, the main source of revenue for the Highway Trust Fund.
The Obama administration is pushing a four-year, $302 billion package that is funded, in part with changes to the corporate tax code.
Meanwhile, a leading House Republican has proposed a plan to fund the trust fund as part of a larger tax reform package.
Foxx urged the more than 50 people who attended the briefing at MetroLINK to push Congress for a long-term fix. And afterward, he told reporters he thinks something will have to be done soon.
"I believe we're at an inflection point and that circumstances are going to require a longer-term solution," he said.