Kuster takes tour to tout transportation funding bill
WINCHESTER — U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster talked about her new transportation funding bill during a tour of the Route 10 bridge replacement project near the Swanzey town line Tuesday morning.
Federal highway funds that provide the majority of the costs for such projects are set to run out in July.
“In the middle of the construction season,” Kuster said. “Not just New Hampshire, but all across the country. To me, that doesn’t make any sense at all.”
The $3.9 million bridge replacement project has 80 percent of its funding from the Highway Trust Fund, according to state Department of Transportation officials.
The replacement of the 78-year-old red listed bridge started in November and is expected to be completed this winter.
The new bridge is being built alongside the old bridge it is replacing.
Kuster marveled at the number of large vehicles, from tractor trailers to logging trucks, that traveled over the old bridge in just the short time she visited the project site.
Winchester Selectman Herb Stevens told Kuster the traffic over the bridge has tripled since it was built.
“This is just-in-time construction,” DOT official Ted Kitsis told Kuster.
While this project is covered by federal funds, DOT is delaying the bid process for $25 million in planned projects because there are not federal funds to help pay for them, said William J. Cass, NHDOT director of project development.
Kuster said she is part of a bipartisan group that is proposing the Drive Now Act bill, which would make a one-time payment of $5 billion to the Highway Trust Fund to pay for transportation projects for the remainder of fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
“This is not a partisan issue,” Kuster said. “This is a safety issue and creating jobs for the community.”
The bill proposes to raise $10 billion by eliminating a costly and duplicative catfish inspection program, by consolidating federal data centers and by forcing federal agencies to close long-empty bank accounts.
“Our bill … it has $5 billion to make sure we finish the bridges and roads and construction this summer and another $5 billion that will reduce the deficit because we have to keep chipping away at that,” Kuster said.
The Highway Trust Fund is funded by federal taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel.
“As people drive more fuel-efficient cars — which is a good thing for the climate, for the environment, for the globe — there’s less tax dollars coming into the highway trust fund. This is an example of where we are behind the curve and where there is a safety issue,” Kuster said.
Right now, Kuster said, her goal is to get the remainder of 2014 road projects funded.
“Then Congress needs to address what the long-term solution is for this,” she said.