And that elephant in the room is the federal fuel tax. There’s nothing Congress won’t do to keep from raising it – including tapping into a $29 billion account that covers temporary shortfalls at the Federal Reserve System’s 12 regional banks.

“Many a banana republic has come to grief using its central bank to facilitate government deficit spending,” warns the Washington Post.

Gasoline’s been taxed at 18.4 cents/gallon and diesel at 24.4 cents since 1993. Americans are driving fewer miles in more fuel-efficient cars. The tax brings in about $34 billion annually.

The federal government spends about $50 billion a year. Various brave legislators have floated proposals to permanently fix the $16 billion difference since before President Obama signed the last highway bill in 2012. All, including one to raise the fuel tax 35 cents, were shot down.

The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) authorizes $225 billion for highways, $61 billion for public transit, $10 billion for Amtrak, and $5 billion for highway safety. While that’s roughly 11% more than the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), we’re basically treading water.

Still, infrastructure organizations including the American Public Works Association, American Traffic Safety Services Association, American Water Works Association, and People for Bikes praise the FAST Act.

Overall, they say, it furthers the project permitting, delivery, and multiagency collaboration initiatives begun by MAP-21. Key provisions:

  • Fixes the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act so public water and wastewater utilities can use tax-exempt financing for the 51% of project funding they must provide
  • Makes transit-oriented development (TOD) expenses eligible for funding under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) and rail credit programs
  • Creates a National Surface Transportation and Innovative Finance Bureau, a one-stop shop for state and local governments to receive federal funding, financing, and/or technical assistance
  • Reinstates 2005’s Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU)discretionary bus grants
  • Provides $375 million annually for the Federal Lands Transportation Program, which includes the National Park Service, and $100 million a year for a Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal projects grant program
  • Dedicates funding for freight projects with two new programs: $1.26 billion-per-year National Highway Freight Program that gives every state funds for highway-specific freight improvements and the $900 million-per-year Nationally Significant Freight & Highway Projects grant program for multimodal projects
  • Cuts two-thirds from the TIFIA program ($1 billion to $300 million)
  • Streamlines project delivery by eliminating duplicate planning and environmental review approvals and requiring simultaneous rather than consecutive multiagency review
  • Provides $375 million annually for the Federal Lands Transportation Program, which includes the National Park Service, and $100 million per year for a Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal projects grant program.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) has an excellent program-by-program highway and transit breakdown for the next five years.

The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) has an excellent year-by-year, state-by-state breakdown of the FAST Act .

I urge you to check them out.

And finally, to anyone who had trouble opening the lead article in our weekly e-newsletter last week ("City Issues $2M in Bogus Speed Camera Tickets"), please accept my apology for your frustration. I hate when that happens to me, so I'll try to avoid doing it to you again.