T&I Subcommittee on funding: We can’t afford to do nothing

| 4/14/2010

If the next highway authorization bill is to move forward, Congress must find at least $140 billion in new funding not yet on the books, House subcommittee members said Wednesday, April 14.

Members of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee say that a six-year highway bill could cost $450 billion to $500 billion in total to fund. At current rates, the federal Highway Trust Fund will fall well short of the amount needed to sustain current infrastructure and to build new infrastructure.

“We are dramatically under-investing in our nation’s surface transportation system. We aren’t even keeping pace and maintaining the infrastructure built by the Eisenhower generation,” Subcommittee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-OR, stated during a hearing Wednesday, April 14. The hearing topic was innovative financing for highways and transit.

DeFazio said that because the federal fuel tax has not been raised since 1993, the Trust Fund has lost 33 percent of its purchasing power.

Some committee members say Congress should increase fuel taxes. Others aren’t so sure.

“Tax revenues are declining for all levels of government, and everyone is being asked to do more with less,” Subcommittee Ranking Member James J. Duncan, R-TN, stated. “As a result, innovative financing methods will play a bigger role in the next surface transportation reauthorization bill than they have before.”

Subcommittee members discussed various bonding programs for transit and rail projects, the role of federal grants, public-private partnerships, tolls and congestion pricing as potential funding options. These options, as well as a suggested tax on vehicle miles traveled – or VMT – are being recommended by two federally appointed committees.

T&I Committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-MN, and Ranking Member John Mica, R-FL, were joined by DeFazio and Duncan in drafting an early version of a six-year highway bill during the summer of 2009. So far, the bill has not been formally introduced or advanced because of the funding issue.

Meanwhile, trucking and other modes of transportation continue to be affected by stagnant infrastructure investment, DeFazio stated.

“The congestion that results from our aging system impairs freight movements within the U.S. and raises the cost of American-made products,” DeFazio stated.

“In this age of just-in-time delivery, the longer a delivery truck sits in traffic the more the product costs and the less competitive our businesses are in the global marketplace. Additionally, commercial trucks must often take detours to avoid weight-limited bridges, costing them precious time.”

OOIDA supports a strong highway bill, paid for with fuel taxes and user fees, which is accountable and does not disproportionately penalize truckers. Trucks make up just 3 percent of registered vehicles but pay for approximately 36 percent of money going into the Highway Trust Fund.

– By David Tanner, associate editor