On Thursday night, after many days of negotiations within the Democratic party, House Progressives were successful in holding the highway trust fund hostage past its expiration in order to try and force moderate Democrats to support the $3.5 trillion social spending package. Because the authorization for the highway trust fund has expired, the Department of Transportation has been forced to furlough 3,700 workers and pause nearly 300 highway projects unless the state DOT agencies have the funds available to continue the projects without federal assistance.
The National Highway System consists of 160,955 miles of strategic highways and interstates; these roads fall under federal jurisdiction for upkeep, maintenance, and expansion. While state agencies are used to determine which roads are in need of repair or expansion, funding for those projects is paid for through the highway trust fund, which is paid for by federal fuel taxes on gasoline and diesel. Without reauthorization, the highway trust fund cannot pay for federally-backed highway projects operated by the states even though the trust fund has the necessary cash to pay for the projects. The trust fund will continue to receive revenues from gas taxes while the projects are on hold.
Until the next five-year reauthorization is passed by the House of Representatives or Congress passes a stop-gap extension of the expired authorization, hundreds of highway projects will be forced to stop, and thousands of workers will continue to be furloughed.