Bridging The Gap: Finding funding to make much needed repairs or - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Bridging The Gap: Finding funding to make much needed repairs or replacements

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Just recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a six-year transportation bill that authorizes $325 billion in spending through the 2021 federal budget year. Just recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a six-year transportation bill that authorizes $325 billion in spending through the 2021 federal budget year.
SPOKANE, Wash. -

Government spending on transportation infrastructure, like bridges, is primarily administered through the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), a fund that was established in 1956 and receives most of its money from the federal sales taxes on gasoline and diesel (the gas tax, for short).

The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents-a-gallon, 24.4 cents-a-gallon for diesel. The gas tax not been increased since 1993. Since then, economists note that construction costs have increased with inflation, and improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency have allowed consumers to drive more miles on less gas -- which is obviously great for your wallet but not so great for road funding. 

Broken Bridges: A closer look at a crumbling piece of our transportation system

Since 2008, Congress has kept the federal Highway Trust Fund teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, unwilling to raise their gas taxes even though the HTF is expected to spend about $52 billion on highways and transit programs while earning just $39 billion this year.

Just recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a six-year transportation bill that authorizes $325 billion in spending through the 2021 federal budget year. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has said that $400 billion over six years is the minimum amount needed to prevent matters from getting worse.

But there is a problem with the deal: it provides money for only the first three years, because representatives could not agree on a way to pay for it all. The measure would continue current rates of spending, adjusted for inflation. Representatives also have to determine where the money for the final three years of the six-year deal will come from.

Political analysts note the bill passed by the house is somewhat similar to a transportation bill passed by the Senate over the summer. Leaders in Congress say they hope to work out the differences between the two quickly, and send a final bill to President Barack Obama by Thanksgiving.

BROKEN BRIDGES: How a bridge inspection is done

But bridging the gap between the need to fix and the limited funding to do it is a constant struggle - particularly at the local level.

"There is not a maintenance fund out there that we can apply for maintaining our bridges, so we do it with our own city coffers," Mike Serbousek, the manager of the City of Spokane's Streets Department, said.

"The other [issue] is replacement funding for the bridges, as they have a useful life just like everything out there and we have to replace them once in a while. That's one of the big things… finding replacement funding."

We're somewhat fortunate in the Inland Northwest. Both Washington and Idaho are among the 21 states that have approved plans to raise their own additional transportation revenues.

In April, Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter signed House Bill 312 into law. It will raise the state gas tax by 7 cents-per-gallon (to 32 cents-per-gallon), and increase registration fees to $21 for cars, $10 for motorcycles and $25 for commercial and farm vehicles.

Patching a Problem: what engineers and inspectors are doing about broken bridges

Hybrids and electric cars in Idaho now face an additional fee of $75 and $140 respectively. The money raised from those increased fees will be distributed into the state's highway account. The bill also calls for the dedication of some excess dollars from the general fund to statewide roads projects.

In total, Idaho's bill will increase revenues for transportation by $94 million per year.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5987 into law in July. The goal of the law is to raise $16.1 billion by increasing the fuel tax by 11.7 cents-per-gallon over two years, and increasing vehicle weight and drivers license fees.

The package associated with the new law directs $8.8 billion to new state and local highway construction projects, $1.4 billion to road repair, and $1 billion to transit, pedestrian, and bike projects.

Wednesday night on KHQ Local News at 6pm, we delve in-depth into the question of how broken our bridges in the Inland Northwest are, what engineers are doing to make sure catastrophe doesn't come here, and whether anyone is trying to bridge a funding gap that's growing by the day.

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