Fixing the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) without generating any new revenue would require the equivalent of Congress passing and the president signing a 2013-level Murray-Ryan budget deal every year just to maintain current highway and transit program investment levels, American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) President Pete Ruane Feb. 12 told a Senate panel.
According to a new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, the HTF will be unable to support any investments in new projects come September, and will require, on average, $16.3 billion annually just to preserve the current transportation program. By comparison, over a two-year period, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013—the Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) budget deal—reallocates resources to increase the non-defense discretionary spending cap by an average (ironically) of $16 billion per year.
Calling that process a “painful scenario,” Ruane warned the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee that if the HTF shortfall is not addressed, more than 12,000 highway, bridge and safety capital projects across the nation — on the routes most important to the U.S. economy — could be lost.
Ruane noted that trucks carry freight worth more than $11 trillion over the nation’s roads and bridges every year, and nearly 75 percent of that travel takes place on the federal-aid system. “Without that federal investment in these roads, trucking mobility and economic productivity are at risk,” he said.
Ruane explained ARTBA’s economics team set about to research how the public’s federal gas tax dollars were put to use in 2012. Unfortunately, it took a Freedom of Information Act request and sophisticated computer analysis of literally millions of data points to get answers.
Among the highlights he said the public deserves to hear: the federal program helped fund 12,546 capital improvement projects (7,335 road, 2,407 bridge, and 2,804 road safety)—all focused primarily on the system that moves most of that $11 trillion.
“There are projects in every state. Every one of them can be identified by name, and location, and by how much was invested in them,” he said, acknowledging that more transparency is needed so the public understands where its tax dollars are invested.
“We believe one of the federal program’s biggest problems is that government at all levels does a poor job of telling the American public how their federal gas and diesel tax dollars are invested each year,” Ruane added. “We believe the public would be impressed and widely support this federal program if they knew the full story.”
He told Senators the average American household spends roughly $160 per month for cell and landline phone service, and only $46 per month through state and federal motor fuels excises to support the road, bridge and transit systems they depend on every day.
“If the public was asked to invest each month as much as they willingly spend on cell and landline phone service, we would not be here talking about the Highway Trust Fund problem. We would be providing Americans with the first-class transportation network they deserve,” Ruane concluded.