The Highway Trust Fund Challenge: Policy Reform And Increasing Revenue

Politico recaps the findings of the two federal commissions authorized by the last transportation bill. While their findings are not hopeful, they do present a better outlook for a change 'down the road' - perhaps in a future authorization bill.
November 6, 2011, 9am PST | Irvin Dawid
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With the current 6-month extension of the federal transportation bill expiring on March 31, it would appear unlikely to expect any breakthroughs in policies on how the funds are spent or ending the Highway Trust Fund's deficit spending, the basis of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission and the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission, respectively.

"Steve Heminger, a member of the Study Commission and executive director of the San Francisco Bay area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said Congress has largely been stuck on meaningless debates" about how funding is distributed among the states.

"The biggest problem - the issue that lawmakers often acknowledge but never seem able to address - is a lack of money.

The Highway Trust Fund continues to lose money - the highway account will be nearly $100 billion in the red by 2021. The mass transit account will be almost $30 billion short.

The Financing Commission recommended a number of solutions, but the most talked-about was an eventual shift to a VMT tax to measure and charge for road use. Under the system, GPS devices would track how many miles, and on what roads, cars drive. Drivers would then pay per-mile fees, with the possibility of adjustments for vehicle weight, fuel efficiency and road type."

However, the VMT fee is no panacea by itself, as there are formidable challenges to its adoption and raising the fee to keep current with costs.

"Geoffrey Yarema, a member of the Financing Commission, remains optimistic that the technical challenges can be overcome - and in short order." But it may have to be with future generations less intimidated by technology.

Thanks to One Bay Area News Update

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Published on Monday, October 24, 2011 in Politico
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