Transportation leaders explore funding options

| Monday, September 20, 2004

User fees, private-public partnerships and bond issues are among future funding options for highway and transit systems, according to leaders who last week attended the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's National Chamber Foundation Transportation Roundtable.

Keynote speaker Mary Peters, Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, said “it is time to look at this again,” referring to current funding policy, which was established in 1954 during the Eisenhower Administration.

Other speakers included AASHTO Director of Management and Business Development Jack Basso, American Road and Transportation Builders Association Vice President for Economics and Research Bill Buechner, former House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chief of Staff Jack Schenendorf – now a consultant with Covington and Burling – and Kenneth Weinstein, vice president and chief operating officer of The Hudson Institute.

Their comments, as reported by the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials, were varied, but carried the common theme of change as a necessity.

“We are clearly at a point of change,” Basso said. “We in fact, have a vacuum.”

Buechner believes the 18.4 cents per gallon gas tax “has to be replaced.” He added most money now goes for maintenance and not enough to add needed capacity.

The future of transportation funding will also be shaped by Congress’ ability and willingness to assess alternatives, Schenendorf said.

Meanwhile, the Chamber announced it would begin its own study of alternative long-term sources of revenue to support the Highway Trust Fund.

“Our roads and highways cannot handle today’s demands – much less the higher demand predicted in the future,” said David Hirschmann, Chamber senior vice president and executive director of the National Chamber Foundation – the U.S. Chamber’s public policy think tank.

“It's past time to explore new options for funding transportation improvements that will make travel safer and help move our goods more quickly and at less cost.”