By Elvina Nawaguna
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. governors and mayors are pushing Congress to quickly reauthorize long-term legislation to fund transportation projects across the country, fearing that any lapse in funding could disrupt existing projects and hurt local economies.
Testifying at a Tuesday hearing before the House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, representatives of states, cities and the transportation industry urged lawmakers to act before the current funding law expires at the end of September.
They want lawmakers to increase funding for infrastructure and also allow local governments more flexibility in how they use the funds.
"Nothing is more disruptive than interrupting the flow of resources, a potential outcome this committee must confront if additional dollars are not found later this year for the transportation trust funds," Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who spoke on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said in prepared testimony.
"It is hard to fathom how a constant or declining federal resource commitment will ensure that America reaps all of the potential economic growth that can occur in the future," said Reed, a Democrat.
Congress in 2012 passed the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21, to provide $105 billion in funding for building and maintaining roads, bridges and other surface transportation. The law's pending expiration is a major concern for state and local leaders.
The Highway Trust Fund, which relies on an 18.4 cents-a-gallon tax on gasoline and 24.4 cents-a-gallon tax on diesel to pay for transportation projects, is expected to run out of money by 2015 as U.S. fuel use flattens.
Local governments and the transportation industry are concerned that without adequate and consistent funding to match growing demand, U.S. transportation systems will deteriorate - damaging commerce and leaving the United States behind its global competitors.
"States can do a lot, and governors are leading the way, but states and local governments cannot do it all," said Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, a Republican who is also chairwoman of the National Governors Association.
The American Society of Civil Engineers, in its most recent report on the status of U.S. infrastructure, said that investment in infrastructure is insufficient.
A large number of U.S. bridges, the society found, were structurally deficient, and 42 percent of major urban highways are congested, costing the U.S. economy about $100 billion in wasted time and fuel annually. Public transit systems across the country were insufficient, the society said, and continue to deteriorate because of aging fleets and reduced funding.
Tuesday's hearing was the first by the Transportation Committee this year to consider the reauthorization of federal surface transportation programs.
Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, said he expected to have a bill on the House floor before Congress takes its August recess.
"We can't afford to be stuck in the past or we'll be left behind," Shuster said. "So, we need to promote innovation and lay the foundation for emerging technologies."
(Reporting by Elvina Nawaguna; Editing by Bill Trott, Ros Krasny and Steve Orlofsky)