US Transportation Secretary talks tolls, Obama plan with WHAS11


by Joe Arnold

Posted on April 15, 2014 at 7:23 PM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 15 at 7:41 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- As deadline negotiations continued on a Kentucky road plan at the state capitol on Tuesday, the nation's top transportation official visited Louisville touting a $302 billion road plan to be proposed later this month by the Obama administration.

"The highway trust fund is going to run out of money in August or September," said Anthony Foxx, U.S. Transportation Secretary.  "And that's before the election. And so there's going to have to be some bipartisan work done to get a solution in order for us to not have projects stop and not have 700,000 people out of work as a result."

Foxx is on an eight state barnstorming tour to promote the plan he said would both infill the nation's "infrastructure deficit" and make critical additional investments.

"What I am trying to do is raise awareness with the American people," Foxx told WHAS11.  "For so long, America's infrastructure has been something we can take for granted. But it isn't something we can take for granted anymore."

"After 27 'Band-Aids' over the last five years to keep ourselves afloat, we're at a point where our competitors across the world are doing far more than we are."

Foxx complimented the bi-partisan, bi-state cooperation which spurred the agreement to finance and construct the $2.6 billion Ohio River Bridges Project, which he said includes about $1 billion in federal funds and low interest loans.

Foxx hedged on whether the passage of the Obama plan may lead to a change in the financing of the two-bridge Louisville project.  Bonds to pay for construction are guaranteed by future tolling revenues to be collected on the new downtown I-65 bridge, the existing I-65 Kennedy Bridge and the new east end crossing.

In an interview for WHAS11's The Powers That Be show, Foxx was asked if tolls could be eliminated with additional federal funds making up the difference.

"Tolls are a local decision," Foxx responded, "a decision made by the state and local communities.  We're seeing more aggressive use of tolls across the country particularly as the uncertainty in Washington continues to make it difficult for communities to plan based on conventional funding from the federal government."

Foxx told WHAS11 it was "possible" the roads plan could include more funds for the Ohio River Bridges Project.

"We have several programs with the DOT like the TIFIA program which is partially responsible for these bridges," Foxx said.  "We have other new programs that we are looking to introduce such as a freight program and others.  So, there are other opportunities available if there is more money and we're going to try to program it so we're getting the biggest bang for the buck."

The Obama administration proposes changing the tax code to raise funds for the transportation plan.

On Tuesday evening, April 15, the Kentucky Senate voted to approve the state's road plan. It's expected to be approved by the House in time to get it to the governor's desk before the midnight deadline. The compromise means no special session is expected to be called this year.