At the invitation of Congressman Jim Langevin of Rhode Island, who continues to be a strong advocate for new infrastructure investment, I had the honor of attending the 2019 State of the Union address by President Trump on the 5th of February. In addition to being able to attend the main address in the US House chamber, the wider activities around the event presented a significant opportunity to advocate for bipartisan proposals to invest in our national infrastructure.
As a Director for the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), I’ve been involved in countless conversations and debates about what needs to be done. It always comes down to the fact that we need an effectively funded plan out of Washington that takes a long-range view.
The status of the US Highway Trust Fund.
In 1956, the US Highway Trust Fund (HTF) was established to finance the Interstate Highway System and other roads. Its mission has been expanded over the years to include transit and environmental initiatives. To this day, it is still funded by per-gallon federal fuel taxes on gasoline (18.4¢) and diesel (24.4¢), along with related excise taxes. The last increase for these rates was 26 years ago in 1993.
The problem with the gas tax is twofold. First, it is not indexed to account for inflation. Second, since people today are driving fewer miles with more efficient vehicles, the yield from these taxes continues to diminish.
The winding road of the last 15 years.
Since the mid-2000s, proposals to find a better way to fund the HTF have varied greatly, often along partisan lines. From 2008 to 2013, Congress transferred billions of dollars from the General Fund to make up for the continual shortfall. This period included a string of five-year and six-year surface transportation funds reauthorizations. The two-year MAP-21 reauthorization took us to September 2014. The stopgap FAST Act, the first six-year surface transportation reauthorization by Congress in a decade, will expire in 2020.
Where we are right now.
The fact that our nation’s aging infrastructure is in dire need of repair is something all lawmakers can agree on. According to the 2018 Global Competitiveness Report by the World Economic Forum, the US now ranks 9th in the world for overall infrastructure, and 11th in the world for the quality of its roads.
Our country needs safe, reliable and modern roads and bridges that will meet the demands of personal and professional life, while promoting a stronger economy. Transportation industry leaders, both here and nationally, are looking to the Trump administration and Congress to make this a bipartisan priority for 2019.
Stephen A. Cardi II