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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Transportation spending by the federal government may be spared from the budget knife because of its importance to the economy, a University of Tennessee transportation specialist said Friday.

“Congress recognizes the importance of transportation to the economic vitality of the country,” said Dr. Steve Richards, head of UT-Knoxville’s Transportation Center. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the House is expected to approve a proposal to exempt some transportation trust funds and other programs from spending caps and budget cuts. The proposal also would appropriate $1 billion a year in additional funding for highways, bridges and airports.

Richards said transportation budgets may experience fewer cuts because they are largely supported by user taxes such as gasoline and excise taxes on road-user products, unlike other programs paid out of general tax revenue.

“It makes a lot of sense to return the benefits of those taxes to the road users,” Richards said.

Richards said University of Tennessee research will benefit if Congress exempts transportation projects.

“There are certain highway construction programs that have money set aside or mandated for planning and research as a percentage of the total budget,” Richards said. “UT is often involved in planning and research supported by these funds, so it has a direct impact on the research we do here.”

Contact: Dr. Steve Richards (615-974-5255)