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Federal highway cash assured for 2 years, state told

– Federal transportation funding is expected to remain largely unchanged over the next two years, officials say, but the future after that is unclear.

Karen Bobo, assistant division administrator for the Federal Highway Administration office in Indianapolis, told local transportation planners at the Urban Transportation Advisory Board on Tuesday that the highway bill passed by Congress this summer keeps funding about the same, but there will be tough choices to come.

Almost all federal transportation money comes from gasoline taxes, a revenue stream that is shrinking as vehicles get more fuel efficient. The White House recently set rules to double fuel efficiency standards to an average 54.5 miles a gallon.

Bobo said officials are looking for alternatives, but they are few and unpalatable.

“Some of it includes raising the gas tax, and nobody wants to do that,” she said.

Federal highway dollars are a precious commodity to her audience. The board is made up of transportation officials from local governments, including the county, cities, airport and mass transit, all of whom depend heavily on federal money to fund projects.

Bobo said much of what the new two-year transportation plan, known as MAP-21, does is simplify and condense existing programs. She said 120 programs were combined into just five. The $37.7 billion-a-year program also – in a first – includes no earmarks, or specific projects inserted by Congress.

She said Indiana is expected to receive about $873 million in fiscal year 2013, which began Monday.