Foxx to launch five-state tour to tout highway fixes

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is launching a four-day, five-state bus tour next week to urge Congress to approve a big increase in highway and infrastructure funding.

Foxx will tout the administration’s $478 billion, six-year funding bill, visiting Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia — and ending at Union Station in Washington, D.C. He is also expected to highlight auto safety on one stop of the trip in Richmond, Va., with an event focusing on the administration’s call to ban used car sales without completing recalls first.

This month, the Obama administration unveiled the new surface transportation bill just four months before the latest stop-gap highway funding bill expires May 31. Over the last six years, Congress has approved 32 short-term funding patches, adding about $70 billion to the highway trust fund that has traditionally been funded with gas taxes.

The administration wants to hike highway spending by 29 percent over the period to $317 billion and hike mass transit spending 76 percent to $116 billion for projects like light rail, street cars and bus rapid transit. It would also spend $29 billion to fund the development of high-performance rail and other passenger rail programs as part of an integrated national transportation strategy.

Foxx’s bus tour will include visits to “universities, manufacturers, bridges, freight facilities, and highway projects in an effort to raise awareness of America’s infrastructure deficit. Secretary Foxx will visit with students, business leaders, transportation stakeholders, and community residents, to discuss the projects that work, projects that are needed, and to ask them to commit to standing up for a future with an American transportation system that is second-to-none,” the administration said.

Foxx earlier this month also said the Obama administration may unveil revised auto safety reforms when it releases a “new and improved” version of a long-term highway funding bill that will be sent to Congress in the “very near future.”

Foxx said the new legislation will have “many” of the auto safety reforms proposed last year by the administration.

“There may also be some additional measures that help us grapple even better with challenges of auto safety,” Foxx said.

Those proposals include increasing the maximum fines to $300 million for automakers who fail to recall vehicles in a timely fashion, up from $35 million.

Last year, Foxx unveiled a highway bill that would force rental car companies to repair recalled vehicles before they are rented again. Foxx also wants auto dealers to be required to repair used recalled vehicles before they're sold; only new car dealers are required to complete recalls before selling vehicles.

Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, a group that has been pushing to force the repair of rental cars before they are rented, hailed the proposal.

"NHTSA is proposing to close the two biggest loopholes in the original Motor Vehicle Safety Act, and ensure that all American motorists are safe, regardless whether the car is new or used, or is being rented, leased, or loaned."

She added "it's up to the auto manufacturers and dealers to stop making excuses about foisting killer cars onto their customers."

Foxx's proposal on rental cars mirrors a bill pending in Congress since 2011.

Foxx unveiled earlier this month a comprehensive look at the future of transportation, envisioning what America's crowded streets, airports, ports and rail lines will look like in 2045.

"If we don't get ahead of those challenges, we're going to find ourselves stuck in traffic for a long time," Foxx said at a forum at Google Inc.

The government doesn't envision the end of cars.

"In 2045, most of us will probably still use personal vehicles to get to work and to go about our daily tasks. Our population will increasingly move toward large metropolitan areas," a 322-page draft report says.

Foxx told reporters on a conference call Tuesday that driverless cars could eliminate 9 out of 10 car crashes. He noted that the Obama administration is proposing $935 million over six years for vehicle-to-vehicle technology and other advanced technology efforts.

"We will need a game plan," Foxx said, to make fully autonomous cars a reality. "We can actively work toward making that kind of dream a reality."

Foxx noted as the American population grows — predicted to add 70 million people in the next 30 years — and concentrates in cities, the country will have to grapple with more traffic jams. The report warns by 2045, there will be about 81 million Americans older than 65 making up 21 percent of the population — about twice as many older Americans as there are today. As more are no longer able to drive, it raises questions about if adequate mass transit systems will be in place.

In the report, Foxx outlines grim issues. America used to have the world's best roads but has fallen to 16th. Today, 65 percent of U.S. roads are rated in less than good condition; a quarter of bridges need significant repair and 45 percent of Americans lack access to mass transit. By 2045, freight volume will increase 45 percent and heavy truck traffic will rise 60 percent.

Americans waste more than 40 hours a year in traffic and the cost of congestion to the United States annually is more than $121 billion. The report notes that transportation for nearly 20 percent of total household expenses and 12-15 percent of total household income; but for lower income households, transportation costs account for about 32 percent.

DShepardson@detroitnews.com