McCONNELLSBURG, Pa. — U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster believes June might essentially be "infrastructure month" in Washington, D.C.

As chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Shuster, R-Pa., plans to negotiate budget proposals and investment guidelines that affect the nation's highways, bridges, rail lines and airports.

Shuster anticipates meeting Monday with President Donald Trump about a Federal Aviation Administration reform bill, and believes the president also might want to travel to see proposed infrastructure projects in the coming weeks.

He said his staff members have been meeting with White House personnel and federal transportation department personnel almost daily.

"No matter what the president proposes, it's got to go through the Congress. He has to go through the House and the Senate, so hopefully, they'll be relying on me and my experience to say: 'These are things I think we can pass,'" Shuster said Wednesday in an interview.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has said Congress should expect a transportation package by the third quarter, which starts in July.

Shuster, whose 12-county district includes Franklin and Fulton counties, answered several Herald-Mail Media questions about transportation and infrastructure Wednesday.

Q: President Trump has proposed spending $200 billion on infrastructure over 10 years. How far can those dollars reasonably be stretched if used as tax credits and loans to the private sector? How should that money be spent, in your opinion?

A: "That's $200 billion in addition to the already $40 billion we spend every year, so over a 10-year period, total spending would be about $60 billion (per year). We're going through the process right now of how you utilize those dollars. They've got some ideas we agree with; they've got some ideas we don't necessarily agree with.

"... (We plan to) change some of the funding to try to do innovative projects (and) public-private partnerships that can really jump-start those projects and get them moving. A key component has to be rural America.

"There's not a whole lot of public-private partnership interest in rural America because there's not that many people, but to have (U.S.) 30 run through here, the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Interstate 81, you've got to have a federal component to make sure there is enough money to build those roads through rural areas."

Q: Do you think it is reasonable to suppose higher gas taxes and highway tolls could support the country's needs for roads and bridges?

A: "There may be some targeted tolling happening around in the country in really congested areas. Philadelphia, for instance, there are about 55 miles of (Interstate) 95 that runs through Philadelphia. It's in need of a major overhaul, a rebuild. It's about a $12 billion to $13 billion price tag on it. I-95 north of Baltimore, the only place that does not have a toll is that Pennsylvania piece of it. That's something we'd look at.

"There are other congested areas around the country. If we let them toll, at least temporarily, let them build out and do what they have to do, we're not going to get it done otherwise.

"As far as the (higher) gas tax, I know the president said it is still on the table. We've been talking about it. We'll have to see what happens. I think we need to consider everything because this country has not invested in the infrastructure we needed to over the past 20 years. We're seeing signs of the crumbling of our infrastructure."

Q: The president proposed cutting discretionary funding for the U.S. Department of Transportation. What kind of effect would that have on the department?

A: "It depends on where they're going to cut. There's a lot of fat in all these agencies.

"One of the main things and one of the cost-drivers is personnel. Over the last eight years of (President Barack) Obama, the federal employment rolls have gone way up and (were) used as a jobs bill. Government jobs are good, and you need some of them, but we've really have to pare back what we have in government.

"If you were to eliminate about 1 percent of the federal workforce, that would save you about $20 billion to $22 billion a year. Any company that is going through tough times has to sometimes cut 5 percent to 10 percent. You're talking about a significant amount of money by paring back the personnel and having people step up and do a little bit more."

Q: West Virginia and Maryland have had some success with widening Interstate 81. Do you think we are creating a bottleneck going into Pennsylvania, and why can't we get some more consistency?

A: "Absolutely, it's a bottleneck in Pennsylvania. I-81 is in desperate need of two more lanes, probably four lanes, but we'll take two. The truck traffic on I-81 is going to continue to increase significantly. Now, if you ride on it at night, it looks like a railroad because it's truck after truck.

"That's one of the prime examples I use when I talk to the president and his people. If you do an infrastructure bill, I-81 is a perfect kind of project to put in a bill — maybe not name it specifically — but you say this is the kind of project because I-81 runs from New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee. That goes through a lot of congressional districts in several states.

"That's the kind of thing people will support. I-81 needs to be six lanes all the way from New York to Tennessee."

By: Jennifer Fitch May 31, 2017 Updated 10 hrs ago