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Foxx to call for highway funding boost in Detroit

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will be in Detroit Tuesday to make the case to business executives and drivers that America’s crumbling roads and bridges are in need of a massive overhaul.

Foxx will speak to the Detroit Economic Club and then he will go to an event with Gov. Rick Snyder at the $150 million, 100,000-square foot American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Detroit.

“We are underinvesting overall. I know that several states have undertaken their own measures to pay for infrastructure that is needed and many of those states have been very successful,” Foxx told the Detroit News on Monday. He declined to take a position on Michigan’s May 5 ballot initiative which would increase the state sales tax for road funding.

He added that if states boost investment, but the federal government doesn’t hike funding, then state money is basically going to end up “backfilling” money the federal government would have provided in the past. “There is still going to be a need for a federal role,” Foxx said.

Foxx is sending the message that states would get a bigger chunk of money under the $478 billion, six-year, 361-page bill unveiled Monday by the Obama administration. Under the Obama administration plan, Michigan would see an additional $72 million for mass transit next year — $204 million — over the current $132 million. “It’s a big bill designed to solve some of our big problems,” Foxx said.

The Obama administration would pay for the fixes through the proceeds of corporate tax reform. AAA CEO Bob Darbelnet praised the department’s call to hike NHTSA’s budget but criticized the funding plan.

“We are disappointed the bill fails to identify a long-term and viable funding source to address the Highway Trust Fund shortfall. Repatriation of corporate overseas profits might provide an infusion of money for construction and repairs, but it’s a temporary solution that does not solve our funding crisis,” Darbelnet said. “AAA continues to believe that increasing the federal gas tax is the most effective and sustainable way to pay for roads and bridges in the near term.”

In Detroit, Foxx will also tout a government report that looks at the looming challenges in highway and infrastructure through 2045. “We are going in the wrong direction,” Foxx said. “Underinvestment is catching up with us.”

He said the current generation is in danger of passing worse roads ontohe next generation. “We are going to continue sounding the alarm bell to Americans because they are the ones stuck in traffic,” Foxx said at a Politico forum earlier Monday; Foxx intends to pitch the plan around the country after his Detroit trip.

Foxx noted that 3,018 of the 11,022 bridges in Michigan are considered structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

The American Society of Civil Engineers 2013 Report Card says that driving on poor roads costs Michigan drivers $2.5 billion a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs — or $357 per motorist — while 38 percent of Michigan’s roads are in poor or mediocre condition. Foxx argues that it would be cheaper to simply fix the roads than avoid car repairs — something Snyder has also suggested.

The $478 billion proposal call for getting unrepaired vehicles off the roads faster and requiring all new car dealers to check for uncompleted recalls when owners take their vehicles in for service.

Over the last six years, Congress has not been able to reach agreement on a long-term highway funding bill and instead passed a series of 32 short-term extensions — adding $70 billion for the highway trust fund.

Foxx also addressed the issue of record-setting 2014 auto recalls Monday and vowed to continue pushing for more funding for NHTSA. “We are going to fight really hard to get as many of the safety improvements that we have proposed,” Foxx said.

He said he expects the results of inspector general review into NHTSA that he asked for in March 2014 to be completed soon. He said GM continues regular meetings with NHTSA after it was fined and “progress is being made.” But he said there are other areas — like Takata airbags — “where we still have a long way to go. ... We’re not going to rest until we have assurances based on our data driven approach that what’s on the street is safe.”