ST THOMAS, USVI -- US Virgin Islands Governor John de Jongh has called on the US Congress to replenish the Highway Trust Fund to avoid significant cuts to highway and transit funding that are scheduled to be imposed in the USVI and across the country starting August 1, and to extend the statutory authorization for highway and transit programs that are otherwise due to lapse September 30.
Governor John de Jongh
In letters to the leaders of four committees in the US Senate and the House of Representatives that have jurisdiction over the Highway Trust Fund and transportation funding, de Jongh wrote that the US Virgin Islands -- as well as other territories and states -- “depends upon a steady and predictable stream of federal highway and transit funding for critically-needed transportation projects. These projects not only address the pressing transportation needs of the territory; they also sustain and drive economic activity while providing needed employment in the construction sector, a primary driver of our economy.”
In his submission, de Jongh noted that the “consequences of not extending federal funding beyond September 30 would be particularly severe in the USVI and the other small territories.”
If Congress does not act in a timely manner, de Jongh said that the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) has announced it would conserve the remaining balance in the Highway Trust Fund by implementing a cash management program starting on August 1. If that program is implemented, the Territory’s access to federal highway funding for reimbursement would be limited.
Initially, USDOT projected that such funding would be limited to $12,800 monthly. However, following the governor’s letters -- and similarly strong statements from officials in other jurisdictions -- USDOT revised its initial projections and changed the limit for the USVI to $1.0 million monthly. The governor told Congress that the imposition of the funding limit has the potential to impact current federal highway projects and the operations of private highway contractors.
In his submission, de Jongh encouraged the committee leaders to collaborate with their colleagues to pass legislation in time to avoid these cuts. Further, the governor asked the leaders for increased highway and transit funding for the territory when their committees consider a long-term reauthorization bill later this year or early next year.
“The issues surrounding the stability of the highway funding also impact two major projects that we have been working on for years – rehabilitation and safety improvements to Melvin Evans Highway and the Veterans Drives – and that we are very close to supporting with a bond issuance once we can obtain legislative approval,” stated the governor.
“These are two projects that have been in process for over fifteen years, and their importance to each island is paramount to ensure vehicular traffic and, with Veterans Drive, address traffic congestion. This is in addition to their favorable economic impact on our community,” he said.