With all the discussion in Washington over proposed highway funding legislation, there seems to be an elephant in the room that everyone is trying to avoid – mainly, how will future investment in our roads, bridges and highways be funded long term? Current proposals, such as using funds resulting from the troop pullout in the Middle East or levying higher fees on offshore drilling, are stop-gap measures, not long-term fixes.
An interesting blog from theatlantic.com points to the larger issue. In "Why Your Prius Will Bankrupt Our Highways", author Jordan Weissmann points to the rather obvious problem with the current funding mechanism, the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). The HTF is dependent upon the federal fuel tax as its primary revenue source. While self supporting during the gas-guzzling eras of the '80s and '90s, the HTF has dwindled rapidly as the government and consumers have pushed the automotive industry for ever more fuel-efficient cars and trucks and alternative fuel vehicles.
The economic downturn didn't help either. "Penny-pinching drivers logged fewer miles to save on gas," Weissman writes. "Today, Americans are still using less fuel than they did just a few years ago. As a result, they're paying fewer gas taxes, and less money is flowing into the Highway Trust Fund, which is now facing potential insolvency in 2013, according to the Congressional Budget Office."
With an unwillingness in Congress to raise the gas tax, and no solid proposals for alternative funding sources, America's highways face a bumpy future. As Weissmann indicates, "Today's shortfalls are nothing compared to what's waiting down the road as cars become even more efficient."
Legislators in Washington continue to spew out spending proposals with the assumption that the revenues will somehow materialize to pay for them. But without a defined revenue source in place, it's all largely smoke and mirror politics at play.
Until the real work is done and a solution is developed, America's motorists, and construction workforce, are forced to sit idle on the sidelines – and roadways – and watch as the world's greatest interstate system slowly crumbles into obsolescence.