Schumer presses Congress for highway funding

At a news conference in Old Westbury on July 21, 2014, Sen. Charles Schumer called on the Senate to pass a measure to extend funding for the nation's highway and bridge improvement projects that is scheduled to run out on Aug. 1. (Credit: News 12 Long Island)

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Sen. Charles E. Schumer holds a news conference Sen. Charles Schumer

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Sen. Charles Schumer called on Congress Monday to extend funding for federal highway and bridge improvement projects that is scheduled to run out Aug. 1.

At a news conference in Old Westbury, Schumer called on the U.S. Senate to pass a compromise measure to extend funding for the nation's Highway Transportation Fund -- either through December as proposed in the Senate or next May as proposed in the House.

Last week, the House voted 367-55 to extend the trust fund through May 2015 with $11 billion in funding. President Barack Obama has been pushing for a $302 billion four-year plan.

A Senate proposal, which Schumer supports, calls for $9 billion in funding through the end of the year. Schumer said that would give Congress time to "come together on a long-term plan, which is definitely needed."

"I'm willing to support at the end of the day any bill that prevents us from running out of money on Aug. 1," said Schumer, who stood in front of a Long Island Expressway overpass that Federal Highway Administration officials say needs repairs and upgrades.

Schumer said a vote on the Senate version of the bill could come as soon as Tuesday. Congress is scheduled to take a five-week break beginning Aug. 1.

Some conservative lawmakers and groups have called for the fund to be dismantled, saying state and local governments should pay for roadway repairs. But Schumer said such a move "would hurt local taxpayers."

New York could lose $1.6 billion annually if the fund runs out, and hundreds of improvement projects could come to a "screeching halt," Schumer said. He added that 42 highway projects worth $318 million that are under construction on Long Island could be affected immediately if federal funding runs dry.

Schumer said there are more than 400 Nassau and Suffolk bridges and roadways that the Federal Highway Administration has deemed "structurally deficient" or "functionally obsolete" that are eligible for federal funding and also would also face delays if the highway trust fund runs out.

Structurally deficient bridges "include a significant defect in their structure, and usually have speed and weight limits on them to ensure safety until they can be upgraded," said Schumer spokeswoman Meredith C. Kelly. Functionally obsolete bridges "have a design that is no longer appropriate for the bridge's modern-day uses, and are usually lacking a key safety feature," such as a safety shoulder, Kelly said.John Corlett, director of government affairs for AAA New York, joined Schumer in calling on Congress to act before Aug. 1.

"One fourth of New York State's roads are in poor condition," Corlett said, referring to a study released in February by the Washington D.C. based transportation research group TRIP " ... Not acting is not an option."

The highway trust fund is partially funded by federal gas sales taxes -- 18 cents per gallon -- and other federal funding, Schumer said.

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