Testifying in front of the House Ways and Means committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., painted a grim picture regarding the nation’s infrastructure needs.
The chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee said 50,000 bridges need substantial repair or replacement and that the nation faces a $1 trillion surface transportation investment gap over the next 10 years.
“The cost of doing nothing is astronomical,” DeFazio told the House Ways and Means committee on Wednesday, March 6.
DeFazio used the Brent Spence Bridge in Kentucky as an example, saying the project to repair it would be $3 billion and that the cost increases by $100 million each year. Without repairs, the bridge won’t be usable in 10 years, he said.
While there appears to be a consensus on the need for a comprehensive infrastructure plan, deciding on exactly how to pay for it is another story. The most common suggestions are an increase to the fuel tax or a vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) tax.
“We need real federal investment,” DeFazio said. “Others say we should go to a VMT. Well, we’re not ready to jump to a vehicle-miles traveled. I would like to do a nationwide highway program. My state is on its second pilot. There are a lot of issues with VMT. If you are going to do it fairly, you have to do it with real-time pricing, congestion pricing, because someone who drives 25 miles to the feed store in a rural area is not contributing to deterioration or congestion. Someone who jumps on 205 in Portland is, so they shouldn’t be paying the same per mile fee. And there is a little bit of concern, particularly by people in my rural areas, about the government tracking their movements.”
Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., who is the ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee, agreed that there is a major need to keep the Highway Trust Fund afloat.
“I think there is widespread agreement with the House, the Senate, and the White House that we do need to act,” Graves said. “We saw the president urging Congress to send him a bipartisan infrastructure piece of legislation that he can sign into law. The biggest elephant in the room when it comes to surface transportation investment is going to be fixing the Highway Trust Fund and ensuring that it is sustainable for the future.”
Graves said that with vehicles becoming increasingly more fuel efficient, gas and diesel taxes aren’t long-term solutions.
“The most promising long-term solution is VMT,” he said. “VMT has the potential to be a true user-funded program that captures everyone and gets the highway trust fund back to where it needs to be to maintain our network and improve it.”
He added that they are working on ways to be fair to rural and urban drivers, as well as trying to protect privacy.
“Those concerns are being addressed,” Graves said. “Not everything has to be GPS. We’re not talking about tracking. We can do it in a much simpler way.”
Chris Spear, president of the American Trucking Associations, told committee members that poor infrastructure leads to billions of dollars in lost productivity.
Spear cited a recent study that traffic congestion in such cities as Boston and Washington, D.C., cost drivers more than 150 hours each year. He also claimed that the trucking industry has a shortage of 50,000 drivers and suggested that traffic congestion can cause truckers who are paid by the mile to rethink their career.
“If I’m (a truck driver) sitting there in traffic, I got to be thinking I could find something better to do with my life,” he said. “I get paid by the mile, and I’m not moving.”
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