January 19, 2009
Financing Commission Previews Funding Options
What does the future hold for funding transportation infrastructure?
This was at the heart of a presentation by commissioners from the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission, held Jan. 11 as part of the Transportation Research Board’s Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. Four commission members provided a preview of their report—expected to be released in February—which will consider potential new financings options for the U.S. surface transportation system. They pointed out that the current gas tax covers only about one-fifth of the cost of the current transportation system.
One of the principal recommendations of the report is to move away from the current per-gallon gas tax toward a Vehicle Miles Traveled tax. The commissioners outlined the huge gap between existing revenue sources and the nation’s transportation funding needs. Said Commissioner Bryan P. Grote: “It’s not just an immediate problem, it’s a structural problem: the gap between revenue and needs.”
They also focused on such issues as climate change and the upcoming economic stimulus package, the latter topic generating such questions as: To what degree do we spend the money on highway capacity expansion vs. rehabilitation and maintenance and alternative transportation modes?
One questioner made the point that if the transportation industry does receive federal economic stimulus money, then the transportation industry must manage that money correctly. If it does not, industry experts and advocates would have difficulty arguing for substantially more authorization funding. This discussion evoked universal agreement. The panel was followed by a larger group of transportation industry representatives, including APTA President William W. Millar, who participated in a roundtable discussion titled The Future of Federal Transportation Funding and Finance—Paradigm Shift or More of the Same?