After this year's terrible winter, some state and local governments have already begun pulling back on plans for critical road repairs. Things could get worse if Congress and the Obama administration allow a four-year transportation funding authorization law to expire this fall without a replacement.
"The moment is dire," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said at a Bloomberg Government event Tuesday. He said the trust fund "is quickly running toward insolvency."
"We're already seeing states slowing down their programs of work," Foxx also told D.C. radio station WTOP. "By June or July, we'll start to see states slowing down some ... contracts [for] the fall. We have 700,000 jobs that are going to be at risk. Obviously, we're losing the opportunities to create the connections and the safety that Americans count on in their road systems."
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As just one example, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois recently announced a six-year transportation plan to complete dozens of key projects. But because the plan anticipates using $6.99 billion in federal funding to match $1.16 billion in state funding and $450 million in local funding, projects may not make it off the drawing board without the certainty of that federal contribution, according to a new study by Transportation for America, an alliance of elected, business and civic leaders.
Recently, Foxx visited the site of a bridge replacement and corridor improvement in the Quad Cities on the border of Iowa and Illinois. The project could face serious delays if new work can't begin next year.
Read MoreFight brews over highway spending
Lawmakers are grappling with a Sept. 30 deadline for reauthorizing the government's surface transportation bill, which provides funding for road and transit projects nationwide. A Senate panel this week unveiled bipartisan legislation that would authorize six years of highway programs acting with construction projects at risk of slowing months before the November mid-term congressional elections.
The bill, drafted by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and other members, would provide the current level of spending plus inflation. However, it doesn't address how precisely to raise the revenue – a matter that will be left until later for congressional tax-writers and that threatens the proposal's chances of making it into law.