As East Coast states experiment with novel highway funding strategies and a new report from a transportation research group highlights the need for additional highway revenue, NATSO's leadership on transportation funding policy becomes even more important.
NATSO is one of small but growing group of Washington, D.C., groups urging Congress to develop a long-term, sustainable transportation funding solution. In May, dozens of NATSO members visited the nation's capital to highlight the importance of a self-sustaining, robust highway program, and NATSO continues to be a leader in this effort.
Although NATSO would support any highway funding solution that is efficient, transparent, user-based, and explicitly limited to spending revenue raised on infrastructure-related projects, the most readily apparent solution is to modernize the federal motor fuels excise tax regime.
"The current excise tax rates for gasoline and diesel have not been raised since the 1990s," said NATSO's Vice President of Government Affairs David Fialkov. "That's a serious problem. It must be modernized and restructured so that it grows over time in a manner that is linked to external factors, such as increased vehicle efficiency, construction costs, and the costs and demand for fuel."
Although Congress passed a five-year highway bill in late 2015, that legislation did not provide sufficient self-sustaining, transportation-related funding sources.
NATSO has learned that the Senate Finance Committee will likely consider infrastructure legislation early in 2017 soon after the next President is sworn into office.
"We will spend the next several months continuing to educate policymakers and other stakeholders on how a robust, self-sustaining highway program would help not only NATSO's members, but the economy at large," Fialkov said. "Although we think a fuel tax increase makes the most sense at the present time, we are open to anything that is efficient, transparent, user-based, and explicitly limited to spending revenue that is raised on infrastructure-related projects."
Two recent developments serve to underscore the need for Congress to pass an infrastructure package.
First, a group of East Coast states are proposing pilot programs to determine how they might charge motorists a fee for the miles they travel rather than taxing their motor fuel. The I-95 Corridor Coalition, which represents transportation officials from 16 states and the District of Columbia, applied for a federal grant last month to test the idea.
Under the proposal, officials would stitch together the policies and technologies needed to count the miles driven by recruits from Delaware, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. The states would send out faux invoices monthly, and collect data that legislatures -- and motorists -- would require to decide if the change makes sense.
Privacy remains a key issue, including how the government can track miles traveled without raising fears of spying on where people are going. Although backers maintain that they are cognizant of such concerns, they also note that people readily allow their movements to be charted via smartphone applications, and that there are various ways to allow miles to be tallied without excessive intrusion.
Also in recent days, the transportation research group TRIP released a report recommending that Congress invest at least $189 billion in the 60-year-old Interstate highway system to alleviate congestion and upgrade infrastructure. The call for increased investment echoes a Transportation report issued in November that pointed to a backlog of highway infrastructure investment -- Annual Department of Transportation (DOT) spending is estimated to be slightly more than $20 billion, while at least $33 billion is needed, both reports said.
DOT has said that it received only 61 percent of the funding needed in FY2016 to keep the interstate system in a state of good repair and provide adequate capacity. As a result, significant repairs and rehabilitation are needed or will soon be required to address "growing traffic congestion, increasing car and truck travel, and aging road surfaces and bridges," the TRIP report said.
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