Senators returned from Thanksgiving celebrations with their family and friends last week refreshed and ready to tackle the infrastructure problems and potential solutions facing the country – starting with a committee hearing on Capitol Hill. “Addressing America’s Surface Transportation Infrastructure Needs”, a hearing held by the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on November 29, discussed these issues and solutions. Testifying before the committee was Mr. Carlos Braceras, President of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and Executive Director of the Utah Department of Transportation; Mr. Robert Lanham, Vice President of the Associated General Contractors of America; and Mr. James Corless, Executive Director of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments.
In his opening statement, Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) discussed the need to continue the positive momentum for infrastructure legislation from 2018. For example, he stressed the importance of putting forward a comprehensive surface transportation infrastructure bill with a keen focus on new, sustainable revenue streams to keep the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) solvent and tackle regulatory hurdles. Furthermore, Barrasso expressed interest in continuing the process of using existing formula programs to distribute infrastructure dollars. According to Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE), the most important challenge facing a reauthorization in our surface transportation programs is identifying sustainable sources of revenue to address the growing deficit in the HTF. Lastly, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) stated that he would support an increase in the federal gas tax to fix the HTF if President Trump first publicly endorsed such a proposal.
As the main source of funding for the federal government’s investments in highway and transit infrastructure, the HTF is primarily funded through the federal motor fuels tax of 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon on diesel. The gas tax has not been increased at the federal level since 1993 causing inflation to reduce its purchasing power by 40%.
Our nation’s infrastructure received a “D+” on the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, with bridges, roads, and transit receiving grades of “C+,” “D,” and “D-“respectively. These subpar grades are a result of the long-term underinvestment in surface transportation infrastructure. Despite increased investments by 27 states over the last five years, continued underinvestment will cause our transportation infrastructure to further degrade. In essence, failing to sufficiently invest in America’s deteriorating infrastructure will have a cascading impact on the nation’s economy, which will impact business productivity, GDP, employment, personal income, international competitiveness, and public safety.
As Congress commences debate on reauthorizing the FAST Act, we urge lawmakers to #FixTheTrustFund in order to build a stronger, safer national surface transportation system for the 21st century.