Peters considers toll roads and privatization as fuel-tax alternatives

| 11/6/2006

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters has asked for more time on behalf of a commission exploring highway-funding alternatives to fuel taxes.

The 12-member commission of members of Congress and administrative appointees, according to a Congressional report, is due to report on plausible funding mechanisms by July 1, 2007.

Peters has asked for a six-month extension. She was confirmed Sept. 30 by the Senate to replace former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.

"Fuel taxes have served us very well, but I believe they should not be the predominant method of funding transportation in the future," Peters told a transportation conference Oct. 29 in Portland, OR, as reported by Congressional Quarterly.

But, she said, the need is there to find alternative funding mechanisms.

"The purchasing power of the fuel tax is declining, and every indication is that it is going to continue to decline in the future," Peters said.

The gasoline tax, an example cited in the Congressional report, hasn't been increased since 1993 from 18.4 cents per gallon.

Future funding may come from toll roads, mileage-based user fees and increased private investment in road building and operation of infrastructure.

Peters favors state control over highway projects over federal jurisdiction, according to Congressional Quarterly, and that makes some lawmakers nervous who are opposed to privatization - lawmakers like Rep. James Oberstar, D-MN.

"We are concerned that DOT and the administration might be trying to push it in a particular direction for political reasons - not policy reasons," Oberstar spokesman Jim Berard told Congressional Quarterly.