The maintenance and replacement backlog of capital projects that need to be completed on all U.S. public transportation systems is $86 billion and growing, according to testimony given at a hearing of the Senate Housing, Transit and Urban Affairs Subcommittee May22 by Dorval Carter, chief counsel of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The $86 billion represents the amount needed just to maintain current conditions. According to Carter’s testimony this number, “is expected to grow by $2.5 billion each year – unless we make the investments now to slow or stop the growing maintenance deficit.” Senators at today’s hearing, including Subcommittee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), pressed Carter and other representatives from local transit agencies on the challenges that would arise if funding for transit is not increased in the next reauthorization legislation. Menendez remarked on the situation in his opening statement: “At the end of the day, we all understand that investing in our infrastructure is not a cheap proposition or politically easy in the current atmosphere, but the cost of inaction is much higher.”

The hearing on public transportation needs reinforces the importance of Congress developing a solution to the looming Highway Trust Fund (HTF) revenue shortfall as soon as possible. While states face the prospect of slowed reimbursements for already approved federal-aid projects later this summer, and the prospect of no new highway or public transportation investment when FY 2015 begins October 1, the process to reauthorize the federal surface transportation programs is stalled on Capitol Hill over the trust fund’s latest revenue crisis. The responsibility for finding a way to stabilize the fund and move the reauthorization process forward rests with the House Ways & Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee. At this point, neither committee has scheduled action. Urging Congress to act on the HTF and reauthorization of highway and public transportation programs is the primary focus of the June 9-11 ARTBA Federal Issues Program and the 2014 Transportation Construction Coalition Fly-In.