March 20, 2015 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

With spring approaching and our nation’s roads baring the battle scars of another rough winter, the dialogue surrounding the Highway trust Fund and need for a sustainable transportation solution is accelerating at the federal level and inspiring states to take more action.

In Michigan, residents have responded to their road needs by creating a pothole challenge to identify the worst potholes in the state. One creative business entrepreneur even invented a pothole ice cream flavor to generate awareness about road funding needs, and plans to donate 1 percent of sales from the product to the state for repairs . Come May 5, voters will be asked to consider Proposal 1, which among other things would boost the state sales tax to 7 percent to eventually generate an extra $1.2 billion annually for roads.

Congress’ 2016 fiscal budget release, which proposes levying a onetime toll on untaxed foreign earnings currently sitting overseas and using the proceeds to pay for infrastructure projects, has generated more federal dialogue on transportation needs.

During National Journal's "Running on Empty: Tackling America's Infrastructure Crisis" event on Thursday in Washington, D.C., Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster discussed our transportation funding needs in relation to the new budget proposals.  "I feel confident that we will do a long-term bill, a five- or six-year bill," Shuster said, "because both sides of the aisle, both sides of the Capitol, both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, everybody's talking about a long-term bill."

Though raising the federal gas tax is not on the immediate horizon for many states, several states have benefited from gas tax raises to generate transportation funding. ASCE Senior Managing Director Casey Dinges, reported that 11 states, both conservative and liberal, have raised their fuel taxes since 2013. Recently South Dakota signed legislation to increase its 22-cent gas tax by six cents starting April 1.

While the decision regarding long-term, sustainable transportation funding must be made at the federal level, the outcome of the decision affects each American. Congressman John Delaney invited Maryland residents to share how America’s infrastructure has affected their daily lives. He wants Congress to understand how “long commutes, unsafe bridges and overcrowded ports, railways and airports have a direct impact on people’s lives, on their businesses, on the amount of time we all are able to spend with our loved ones.”

Our nation’s infrastructure needs are great, and every day from Main Street to Wall Street Americans are paying the price. It is critical that Congress work quickly to pass legislation to provide a sustainable, long-term funding solution to #FixTheTrustFund.

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  1. Matt Magnasco says:

    Why does ASCE seem fixated on solving only half of the transportation funding problem? From the blog posts here, to the daily ASCE Government Relations email digest, to the president’s note in the March issue of Civil Engineering Magazine, ASCE seems focused substantially, if not solely, on the revenue side of the transportation equation. The other side — costs — barely gets mentioned.

    The federal gas tax has not been changed in over 20 years. ASCE argues for increasing the gas tax, if for no other reason than to adjust it for inflation. But the gas tax is providing diminishing returns no matter what it is set at: per-capita VMT has stabilized or is decreasing in many areas (aggregate VMT may still be increasing due to increasing population, but each person individually is driving less) and fuel efficiency has increased. One gallon of gasoline is going farther (literally) than in 1993 due to fuel efficiency, and people are buying less gasoline per-capita in the first place. “Fixing” the gas tax doesn’t solve this larger issues; it merely resets the year that they cause the insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund.

    As engineers, we would be irresponsible not to look at the impact of costs, both regulatory and discretionary, that reduce the slice of the funding pie available to any given project. For instance, federal requirements such as NEPA, Buy America, and Davis-Bacon wage rates impose a financial cost component to projects. Are the pubic policies implemented through such regulations justified by their costs? Collectively, those opportunity costs represent millions, if not billions, of dollars that could otherwise be used for asphalt, concrete, and steel. That is a public debate that is not occurring.

    On the discretionary side, where is the oversight to see if a project is truly warranted and justified? The poster child for this is the since-cancelled “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska. Another example would be the North Carolina DOT’s proposed projects to widen parts of I-240 around downtown Asheville to 8 lanes, when traffic volumes on I-240 have been stable for 10 years, and when 6 lanes on I-277 around downtown Charlotte (with 10 times the population of Asheville) has been more than adequate since the mid-1980’s?

    It is fair for ASCE to look at the revenue side of the equation. But it is not fulfilling its duty to the public without considering what structural changes need to be made to project costs.