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Senate passes bill to fund highway trust fund

Posted September 10, 2008
Updated September 11, 2008

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— The U.S. Senate voted Wednesday to put $8 billion into the Federal Highway Trust Fund, a move to stave off what could be crippling delays to federal aid for road and bridge projects nationwide.

The Senate voice vote came two days after Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said the trust fund would go broke by the end of this month. The bill is nearly identical to legislation based by the House in July. The House is expected to act soon and sent the bill to the president.

The Federal Highway Trust Fund pays for road and bridge projects nationwide. The primary funding source for the fund is a federal gasoline tax. But as motorists cut back on their driving, the federal government is losing about $3.2 billion that should go toward road construction projects.

If the fund went broke, North Carolina Department of Transportation officials said the agency could lose around $300 million, less than 10 percent of the DOT's $4 billion budget. About 10,000 industry jobs would be lost statewide.

Of the 330 projects planned for North Carolina for the next fiscal year, about 80 projects would be in jeopardy.

N.C. DOT spokesman Ernie Seneca said the agency is pleased with the Senate’s vote but will continue to “evaluate its options.”

The Federal Highway Administration will have to provide guidance to the states on when and how the reimbursements will come, Seneca said.

There had been discussion in Washington to raise the federal gasoline tax, among several other options, to fund the account.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole said in a statement Wednesday that she strongly supported Congress “taking immediate action to transfer sorely needed funds to remedy this situation for the short term, and reforming this deficient system must be a top priority in next year’s highway bill.”

“The Senate majority has blocked the debate process. Instead of just patching the problem, we need to focus on something more long term,” Chris Walker, Sen. Richard Burr's spokesman, said Wednesday.

Nationwide, transportation experts said at least 380,000 jobs and hundreds of construction projects are in limbo across the country if Congress fails to rescue the Federal Highway Trust Fund.

The state DOT began a hiring freeze Wednesday in order to prepare for the fund’s shortfall and bring the budget “back in line.”

A memo from Angela Faulk, the department’s director of human resources, said no new positions will be posted at the state DOT, but positions that have already begun the hiring process will be completed. The department will not be reallocating positions.

About 14,000 positions exist at the DOT. Nearly 1,900 jobs at the agency are vacant, but only 200 of those job vacancies have been posted.

“If the position has not been posted, it cannot be filled,” Seneca said.

Seneca said despite the Senate’s vote the hiring freeze will remain in effect until the agency can get a better idea about what the legislation will mean for the state.

N.C. DOT Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett said a freeze has also been placed on pay increases that normally come with promotions.

The freeze will remain in effect until “the Secretary determines our financial future as impacted by the U.S. Senate Highway Trust Fund Solvency Bill proposal now under consideration,” the memo said.

State Sen. Neal Hunt, a member of the legislative transportation oversight committee, believes a hiring freeze is a drastic, but necessary step.

“It’s a wise move. I commend Lyndo Tippett for being aggressive and taking action,” Hunt said.

In recent years, the department has been riddled by delayed and troubled road projects, including a botched paving job on a 10.6-mile stretch of Interstate 40 in Durham County that cost the department $21 million from its administrative budget to fix.

That prompted the DOT to spend $3.6 million for international management consultant McKinsey & Co. to evaluate the agency.

Among McKinsey's findings in its 472-page report was that the DOT's structure prevents divisions from working well with each other. It also identified a need to improve productivity, use key performance indicators and increase accountability within the department.


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  • killerkestrel Sep 12, 2008

    Raiding the Highway Trust Fund is a bit of a lie. It was started years ago in 1989 under Gov Martin (A Republican!!) when they switched the vehicle tax from the General Fund to the Highway Trust Fund. They did the transfer ($170 million a year) to lessen the impact on the General Fund. In 2001-5, they increased the transfer by $80 million, and did an extra $125 million in 2002, and paid the extra $125 million back in 2006. They have already passed a law that is cutting the transfers and it will be down to $71 million a year in 2010. They had an article about this in the N&O a few months back.

  • killerkestrel Sep 12, 2008

    Idonotliveindurham, call up your NCDOT District Office and see if your road is on the "hold list". When the NCDOT paves gravel roads under the Secondary Road Construction Program, it does not pay for Right of Way (by law). Therefore, if a landowner objects to the road being paved, and does not give Right of Way, it usually stops the project, and it gets put on the hold list. The other landowners can come up with the money to condem the property, but the NCDOT won't help pay to get the Right of Way.

  • pbjbeach Sep 11, 2008

    if the crooked republican politicians would quit trying to give everything away in the process of contracting with contractors an hold their feet to the fire an make them build our roads according to the ncdot specs then there would be plenty of funding for the road maintenance an construction of new an better roads an quit the priviatization of the state inspection process an let the ncdot state inspectors that are already hired just do their jobs then the taxpayer of this state would again be getting their money's worth for their tax dollars recently fired state employee because i had insted on the ncdot m& t unit enforcing the spec's an in the past when i was a state inspector

  • Bendal1 Sep 11, 2008


    I do work for DOT, but not in the section responsible for paving dirt roads. There's a plan to eventually pave every dirt road in the state, but that's going to take a while. Your comment about your road tells me that the money crunch is forcing the paving crews to, as some here are gloating, "do more with less money". Well, you can see what that creates.

    Tell me, people, will you keep gloating about the department's money problems when YOUR road needs repair and it doesn't show up, or a bridge washes out and they just close the road? Or when some sections of guardrail never get upgraded or maintained?

    Those are things that can happen when there's not enough money, not just needed projects being delayed.

  • streetfightinman Sep 11, 2008

    IF the crooked governor would quit stealing from this fund'
    and was forced to balance the budget we would have plenty of money in the highway fund,remember this when perdue trys to get he grubby hands on the same fund and taxpayers absorb the cost go away easley.

  • burtward2 Sep 11, 2008

    "Let me see if I understand this. The State Senate passes a bill to put $$$ back into the highway fund that they stole from to begin with. So the Senate is in effect getting us twice, once with the gas tax for the highway fund and again with the funding to repay the highway fund. Does anyone else smell a SCAM. Where is the investigative reporting? Where is the investigation?"

    Nodog- apparently you DID NOT understand. As the very first sentence of the article states, it was the U.S. Senate NOT the state senate.

  • djofraleigh Sep 10, 2008

    How does the government plan on taxing the electric cars using the highways? Will gas users pay the way for electric cars? What about the users of natural gas?

    The Feds charge 18 cents a gallon for tax
    and NC charges another 32 cents...50 cents a gallon tax on gas.

    Let the roads choke the individual use of cars out.

  • saltnsanddefenderofdamiddleclass Sep 10, 2008

    I'd like to see a projection of what our taxes would be without smokers and converting transportation to nonpetroleum usage. Of course if you convert, say jets, to use coconut oil in place of jet fuel that would be cool. The airport might smell like a movie theater and the fuel would be subject to the coming transfat tax. But then the center for science in the public interest might say we're giving our planes poor nutrition choices so then it's back to square one.

  • nodoginthisfight Sep 10, 2008

    Let me see if I understand this. The State Senate passes a bill to put $$$ back into the highway fund that they stole from to begin with. So the Senate is in effect getting us twice, once with the gas tax for the highway fund and again with the funding to repay the highway fund. Does anyone else smell a SCAM. Where is the investigative reporting? Where is the investigation?

    Our state senate is full of good ole boys filling their pockets at our expense, and no one seems to care. It's for a change in Raleigh, it's time to rid ourselves of thieves like Rand, Basnight,Wright, Black, Easly, Perdue and their cronies.

  • shep8851 Sep 10, 2008

    This is absolutely insane--the Highway Trust Fund is, in part, funded by gasoline and "highway" taxes collected in N.C. The N.C. Legislature--with its total inability to control its spending, repeatedly has "borrowed" from this fund in order to "balance" the state budget. Have they replaced one penny of this borrowed money? No. Now, the citizens of NC are faced with a tax increase in the near term future that will attempt to bring the fund back up to a working level. And the legisature will once again, dip into that fund to balance the state budget. Somebody needs to slap the hands of the legislature when they once again reach for the "highway piggy bank".