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Federal commission recommends raising gas tax, charging usage fees to increase surface transportation investment


The county is investing far too little in highways and transit, and needs to take a new approach to funding the surface transportation program, according to a report issued yesterday by the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission. Created by Congress as part of SAFETEA-LU to recommend transportation funding policy and action, the commission includes 15 members with various backgrounds — economics, finance, government, industry, law and public policy.

An annual investment of $165 billion for highways and $49 billion for transit is needed to maintain and improve the surface transportation system. The nation currently is investing only 35 percent of that, according to the report, "Paying Our Way: A New Framework for Transportation Finance."

To make up the shortfall, the commission recommends increasing the federal gas tax by 10 cents per gallon and indexing the tax to inflation. The gas tax — a portion of which helps fund transit programs — has lost one-third of its purchasing power since 1993, when it last was increased.  

However, a gas tax increase alone won't sufficiently meet transportation funding needs.

"With the expected shift to more fuel-efficient vehicles, it will be increasingly difficult to rely on the gas tax to raise the funds needed to improve, let alone maintain, our nation's transportation infrastructure," said commission Chairman Robert Atkinson in a prepared statement.

So, the commission recommends shifting to a mileage-based usage fee by 2020. The federal government needs to facilitate state and local governments' ability to "raise their share of needed revenue in a way that also spurs efficient use of the system and stepped-up investment," such as by tolling portions of roads and charging premiums for rush-hour travel in heavily used urban corridors, the report states. The commission also is calling on lawmakers to prompt private investment and provide government credit support to help finance financing transportation infrastructure projects.

"All levels of government — federal, state, regional and local — must increase their financial investment in transportation to overcome the current shortfall, and the federal government must take a strong role in the process," said American Public Transportation Association President William Millar in a response to the report. "Increased investment in transportation infrastructure can and should be the leading way to re-energize the economy with jobs, productivity, growth and competitiveness."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 2/27/2009