Infrastructure Stakeholders to Congress: Fix the Highway Trust Fund
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has begun the difficult task of crafting a bipartisan plan to bolster the nation’s aging infrastructure — and, although lawmakers agree that infrastructure policy is a top priority, they continue to differ on how to sustain the nation’s dwindling Highway Trust Fund.
Nearly a dozen stakeholders representing local governments and the freight and commuter sectors appeared at an all-day hearing to urge 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 trust fund while other funding alternatives, such as tolls, gain greater acceptance.
“All over America there are potholes. And you can only do so much by continuing to fill potholes year in and year out. 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. “In 2019, believe it or not, 80 percent of Americans agree on something, and that’s the need to move forward on infrastructure,” he said. 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.
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. “Will this be the Congress that stabilizes the Highway Trust Fund, which has been underfunded for more than a decade or will the can be kicked down the road one more time?” McArdle asked.
During his opening remarks, Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) pointed to a $2 trillion investment gap in infrastructure cited by the American Society of Civil Engineers. “Raising revenues is the only sustainable way to increase infrastructure investment. We must answer the tough question of how to sustain investments for future generations and to dig out from the effects of this chronic underinvestment.” said Rep. DeFazio. “We can’t just maintain what we have; we also need to modernize how we plan and build transportation projects. We have a tremendous opportunity to complete critical projects, create family wage jobs here in the U.S. and support U.S. industry,” he added.
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. To avoid its insolvency, Congress has supplemented the account with outside funds over the years.
“Nations across the world are planning for 50 years or 100 years for infrastructure, while we’re limping forward with two- and five-year Band-Aids” passed by Congress, said Mayor Garcetti.
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.