Construction jobs tied to dwindling federal highway fund

Thousands of construction jobs in Southern New England are in jeopardy because federal funding is running out.

Local road and bridge repair funds are supplemented with federal money, and without it, the jobs can't go on.

There are more than 5,000 bridges in Massachusetts. The American Road and Transportation Builders Association has surveyed the bridges and found that 9 percent of them are structurally deficient. The cost to fix them is more than $12 billion.

Rhode Island has even a higher percentage of structurally deficient bridges. Out of nearly 800 bridges altogether, 21 percent earned that rating. Fixing them will take a whole lot of money of which the state is currently kind of short.

One of the issues is that much of the funding typically comes from the Highway Trust Fund, which is being depleted.

The trust fund's problem comes from the gasoline tax.

As fuel economy improves, less and less gas tax money is siphoned into the fund, which means less for the states. Last week the U.S. Department of Transportation warned that reimbursements to the states will be slowed until Congress finds a better way to support the Highway Trust Fund.

It would be a huge blow to construction jobs.

"This situation could cause about 50 percent of our program to stop," the Massachusetts Department of Transportation told NBC 10 News.

The state will try to keep supporting projects that are under way, but it said it won't be able to move forward on any future federally funded projects until the highway fund is replenished.

The Highway Trust Fund could run dry in August, unless Congress acts on a four-year, $302 billion transportation proposal put forward by President Obama.