Thursday, March 18, 2010

Highway bill should not shortchange highways

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood acknowledges that a multiyear surface transportation bill is on the administration’s radar, but – with an estimated cost of $400 billion to $500 billion – he says funding just does not exist right now.

The Highway Trust Fund has been surviving on a series of temporary extensions of the status quo as Congress continues to work on long-term legislation that we refer to as a “highway bill.”

It must be noted that LaHood isn’t necessarily calling the pending overhaul a “highway bill” per se.

The Secretary and others, including House and Senate transportation leaders, are touting the next authorization bill as a multi-modal approach to moving people and freight. One troubling thing for truckers – who happen to fund 36 percent of all surface transportation programs with their highway user fees – is that transportation leaders are promising to increase funding levels for rail, transit and livable communities.

That means more of your fuel taxes, HVUT, and federal excise taxes on tires, trucks and trailers paying for other modes. If that bothers you, you should get involved.

LaHood recently told the American Public Transportation Association that President Obama wants a multiyear surface transportation bill to be bipartisan and fully paid for. Just how long that will take, and what the bill will say, is up to Congress. You have a say in the matter, too, as these lawmakers are just a phone call or letter away.

Lots of transportation projects are popular with voters, including passenger rail and bus services, and the good ones make sense to us. But remember, highway users are the only ones paying in, while most others are simply taking out. If this status quo continues, the system will crash. Yes, other projects are worthwhile, but those things should be funded with money other than highway user fees.

Beyond a push for new toll roads, we haven’t seen a lot of talk about highway construction or expansion so far in the discussion.

It would be a great idea to turn the discussion of a new highway bill back to highways and bridges.

Keep in mind that lobbyists and groups from every corner of transportation are getting in line with their hands out for a chunk of the pie. Just remember that it’s a pie you helped bake, and you deserve the biggest piece.

Photo by David Tanner, Land Line Magazine.