As the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee tackles legislation to bolster the nation’s aging infrastructure, stakeholders representing local governments and the freight and commuter sectors urged the panel to identify a sustainable source of funding for a long-term infrastructure bill.
Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood urged the committee to consider increasing and indexing the fuel tax by about 10 cents. Doing so, LaHood argued, would bring immediate revenue into the Highway Trust Fund, while other funding alternatives, such as tolls, gain greater acceptance.
Analysts say the Highway Trust Fund, which assists states with maintenance and construction projects, will approach insolvency by 2021. The revenue generated from current federal fuel taxes is insufficient to sustain the fund.
“All over America there are potholes… the interstates are crumbling,” LaHood said. “You can’t fix America’s problems with infrastructure with just tolling, with just vehicle miles traveled, with just public-private partnerships. You have to create a big pot of money. It’s got to be big and it’s got to be bold,” LaHood told the committee.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said a recent national poll found that infrastructure ranked second to health care in the issues most important to Americans. Garcetti agreed that the fuel tax merits inclusion in an infrastructure measure, and stressed the legislation should reflect advancements in smart technology and projects capable of withstanding the force of extreme weather events. “Nations across the world are planning for 50 years or 100 years for infrastructure, while we’re limping forward,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, UPS Freight President Rich McArdle emphasized a sense of urgency, noting that traffic congestion along corridors hinders the movement of freight. The chamber consistently has advocated for a fuel tax increase.
Citing a $2 trillion investment gap, committee chairman Rep. Peter DeFazio said, “Raising revenues is the only sustainable way to increase infrastructure investment. We have a tremendous opportunity to complete critical projects, create family wage jobs here in the U.S. and support U.S. industry.”
Federal fuel taxes have been stagnant since 1993, prompting more than half of the states in the U.S., including California, to raise their fuel taxes to fund big-ticket infrastructure projects.