Exhibit draws attention to infrastructure

The Laborers International Union towed what looked like a mobile sculpture through the 9th Congressional District of U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Wednesday.

It was a school bus wrapped in zig-zag police tape, with a section of concrete bridge decking and parapet, topped by a steel guardrail, embedded in the windshield, like an eye patch – but designed to open the eyes of the public to what the union believes is a crisis shortfall in federal highway funding, one that could cost the union and many others their jobs.

The bus, with lettering across the back reading, “You’re about to get schooled on our failing infrastructure,” is a teaching tool in the union’s campaign in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio to drive Congress and the president toward refueling the Highway Trust Fund.

The Department of Transportation will probably need to delay payments to states for highway projects this summer to keep the trust fund’s balance above zero, Congressional Budget Office Assistant Director for Microeconomic Studies Joseph Kile told the Senate Committee on Finance in May.

Highway spending for the fiscal year ending after September will be $45 billion, but revenues will be $12 million less than that, according to Kile.

And if nothing changes, the fund will continue to incur shortfalls, he said.

Kile outlined three possible solutions to the committee:

— Spending reductions of 30 percent between 2015 and 2024.

— Increasing motor fuel taxes 10 to 14 cents per gallon.

— Transferring $13 to $18 billion a year during that period.

“We’re looking for long-term full funding,” said Erica Hilton, a union spokeswoman traveling with the exhibit.

Public-private partnerships are another possibility, “but a review of those projects offer little evidence (they) provide additional resources for roads except in cases in which states or localities have chosen to restrict spending,” he told the committee.

Borrowing is also a possibility, but it’s “only a mechanism for making future tax revenues or user fee revenues available to pay for projects sooner,” he said.

The trust fund is falling behind because lawmakers have not raised the federal fuel taxes since 1993, even though fuel prices have tripled since then, and because increases in vehicle fuel efficiency has reduced the amount of fuel needed, according to a study by the Thomas Jefferson Program in Public Policy at the College of William and Mary.

For Shuster’s committee, “a long-term surface transportation bill that provides the necessary stability for states to carry out their infrastructure priorities continues to be a top priority,” said Shuster spokesman Sean Joyce on Wednesday.

The trust fund distributes money to the states by formula, and the states use the money for maintenance and construction.

The trust fund provides about a quarter of the combined $156 million spent by all governments to build, operate and maintain highways and the $60 million spent on transit systems, according to Kile.

For several decades, the trust fund was stable or growing, but in 2008, lawmakers began transferring general fund money to support it, Kile said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.