Alger: No More 'Transfers and Budget Gimmicks'


American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) Chairman Bob Alger called on Congress to increase investment in the transit Capital Investment Grants (CIG) Program but said it is best achieved in the broader context of legislation that provides a permanent revenue solution for the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF).

Alger, chairman of Connecticut-based Lane Construction Corp., represented the association at a House Highways & Transit Subcommittee Hearing on “Oversight of the Federal Transit Administration’s Implementation of the Capital Investment Grants Program.”

While voicing support for the CIG program, Alger said, “Congress’s chronic failure to fix the Highway Trust Fund program threatens all federal surface transportation programs, including transit projects.”

The next Highway Trust Fund crisis looms shortly after the 2015 FAST Act surface transportation law expires in October 2020, Alger said. He noted Congress and previous administrations had initiated more than $140 billion dollars in General Fund transfers and budget gimmicks to prop up current federal highway and public transit investment levels.

While the CIG program is traditionally supported with general revenue dollars through the annual appropri­ations process, continued uncertainty or disruption to HTF program funding will adversely impact all federal surface transportation programs, including CIG. As an example, during the lead up to the FAST Act, such uncer­tainty about future federal investment and HTF solvency caused seven states in 2015 to delay roughly $1.6 billion in planned transportation projects, ARTBA said.

Alger highlighted three key options that Congress should consider to permanently fix the HTF: 1) raise the federal gasoline and diesel user fee rates; 2) apply a freight-based user fee to heavy trucks; and 3) institute a fee to ensure electric vehicle users also help pay for the system from which they benefit.

In a recent comprehensive 32-page report with legislative recommendations for reauthorization of the FAST Act, ARTBA called on Congress to boost investment in the CIG program beyond the current $2.3 billion annual level.

Alger’s testimony also addressed the need for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to improve its regulatory and project delivery process so that projects can be completed on time and within budget. According to FTA’s Capital Cost Database, which compiles as-built costs for 54 federally funded transit projects, average costs for delivering these projects increases an average of five percent annually. As a result, a project that costs $100 million in 2019 would cost $163 million to build in 2029, or more than twice the rate of general inflation.

Another key factor that can keep transportation construction projects on schedule are the use of dispute resolution boards. Such entities should include members recommended by the project owner, contractor or industry and should set up quick and efficient timelines so that members can carefully follow its progress, Alger said.