Christine Stuart photo
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx (Christine Stuart photo)

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx stopped in Connecticut for a few hours Thursday to solicit the help of state officials in encouraging Congress to shore up the U.S. Transportation Department’s Highway Trust Fund.

But there was little he needed to say to convince Connecticut’s Congressional delegation. U.S. Reps. Joe Courtney, Rosa DeLauro, and Elizabeth Esty attended the meeting in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office along with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, and each offered their support for the measure.

Foxx said he’s not just preaching to the choir in his quest to make sure the fund remains solvent. He was in Kentucky yesterday having a similar conversation with officials in that state.

“The reality though is we’re having the wrong conversation about infrastructure in America,” Foxx said. “Our country has been built on our infrastructure. We are the envy of the world . . . But to keep that place and frankly to pass it on to a younger generation, we have to do much more than we’re doing.”

DeLauro likened the situation regarding the fund to a government shutdown in the transportation sector. She said the Transportation Department finds itself in this situation as a result of a Republican majority in the U.S. House that “has manufactured a crisis. It threatens to destabilize our economy and it will cost us 700,000 jobs.”

Foxx said his state tour is partly about averting a crisis, but it’s also about signaling to the country “that we are not in a good place here.”

The fact that the “Highway Trust Fund is on the verge of insolvency should matter to every American,” Foxx said.

The fund has been kept solvent for the past five years by an estimated 27 legislative “patches,” but now it is down to about $4 billion. When the money runs out, it means the federal government will stop reimbursing the state for a portion of its transportation projects.

Foxx said states will see on average a 28 percent decrease in resources.

Malloy said Connecticut could survive without the federal funds for about 30 to 35 days, but it would be unable to go out to bid for about 85 projects.

Those 85 projects represent about $380 million worth of construction on the highway side and about $185 million on the transit side in Connecticut. All of them are in jeopardy if the fund becomes insolvent.

Malloy said he’s going to be having a conversation with governors from across the country next week in Tennessee at the National Governors Association meeting.

“I can’t imagine Republicans being so crazy — so crazy that they would allow this to cripple our economy,” Malloy said.

Connecticut’s Congressional delegation still has trouble comprehending Republican opposition to allocating money to the trust fund. Republicans have been willing to take a program that, for the last 60 years, has enjoyed wide bipartisan support to the brink of insolvency, Courtney said.

“The last thing we need is to have a cut-off of funds that are going to help a construction sector that is finally getting off its knees from the Great Recession of 2008,” Courtney said. “It is imperative that this external pressure . . . continues because that is the only way, if we look at the pattern of the last 18 months, that we can get this House Republican leadership shaken loose to simply allow a vote to take place.”

There are several competing proposals in Congress for shoring up the trust fund, including a plan by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy — who didn’t attend the press conference Thursday — that would increase the federal gas tax by 12 cents per gallon. The Obama administration’s plan unveiled in February would end the fund’s reliance on the gas tax and substitute savings derived from closing corporate tax loopholes. A Republican plan would use money from the U.S. Postal Service by ending Saturday mail delivery.

The money could run out as soon as Aug. 1.