Transportation agencies largely agree that a major overhaul is needed to make transportation infrastructure funding viable.
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) is urging Congress to consider other sources of revenue, including new freight fees such as customs fees and container charges in addition to a system that charges motorists for their usage of the nation's roads based on vehicle miles traveled.
An additional 89,000 lane miles (40% of the 210,000 miles in the current interstate system) are necessary to accommodate projected population growth. “Something has to give,” says Tony Kane, AASHTO's director of engineering and technical services.
A major funding overhaul is needed, and one popular idea is to mandate more user fees. The current 18.4 cents/gallon gas tax and 24.4 cents/gallon diesel tax are not enough to keep pace with inflation — especially as the cost of road maintenance rises with the need for new roads, projected at $375 billion.
The Obama administration has proposed an 18-month extension through March 2011, but Congress doesn't necessarily agree. “The House wants to move quicker and is proposing something in the three-month time frame. The Highway Trust Fund is on life support, and we anticipate it will take another $8 billion before 2010 to keep it solvent,” says Jim March, acting director of the Office of Transportation Policy Studies in the Federal Highway Administration's Office of Policy and Governmental Affairs.
The American Public Works Association is suggesting the implementation of an enterprise fund model, similar to that of the U.S. Postal Service and Amtrak. “We don't want to have to go through this political process every six years or so,” says John German, vice president of PBSJ and chair of the association's SAFETEA-LU Task Force.
Greater accountability is needed to make transportation infrastructure funding viable in the long term. One way to do that is to bring local governments into the picture. “We need to provide an incentive for local financing,” German adds. “More and more responsibility is going to fall on local governments to leverage state and federal improvements with local dollars.”