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Divided Congress preps for battles over transportation funding

Funding for bridge and road repair will run out this summer unless Congress acts
Funding for bridge and road repair will run out this summer unless Congress acts
Oscar Vazquez

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Next week, a Senate committee headed by California Democrat Barbara Boxer is expected to vote on a six-year transportation bill. 

The good news for Los Angeles is that funding for the federal loan program known as TIFIA —   the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act — would be the same as last year. L.A. received ten percent of TIFIA loan dollars over the past two years — upfront money to help build Metro's Crenshaw line extension and the downtown regional connector. The loan will be paid back with a half-cent sales tax increase that's already been approved by voters.

Boxer credits L.A. with the idea of expanding the TIFIA program, but says competition will be tougher. She says the program's been a "huge success," but it's over-subscribed: "So we want to make sure that all the cities and counties across this nation can take advantage of it."

Boxer also warns that the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for road and bridge repairs, is in "deep trouble." The fund runs out of money this summer but it's unclear where more funding would come from; Congress hasn’t raised the gas tax in two decades. Boxer says there are a number of options to make up the $18 billion a year shortfall: you can peg a rise in the gas tax to inflation; or switch to a fee tied to vehicle miles traveled; or charge a fee on freight containers.

Boxer says three-and-a-half million construction jobs "depend on this." It remains to be seen whether her Congressional colleagues will be bold enough to take some action before the fund runs dry.

There’s more bad news for Southern California: the House version of the transportation bill slashes a construction grant program by more than 80 percent and also reduces funding for transit projects.