Okay, here we are, already a few months into 2013 and all I keep hearing is that now is the time to start planning for the next highway bill. Next highway bill? Yes, you read that correctly. Even though MAP-21 was recently passed and it seems as if we are only just beginning to get introduced to its ramifications, it is still just a two-year bill. It is imperative that planning for the next bill begins now.
Here are some numbers for you to remember: 33.3%, 25% and 24.4¢. That is right, 33.3% of major roads in this country are in poor shape; 25% of our nation’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete; and all of this has been paid for by a 24.4¢ diesel tax that has not been raised since 1993. The numbers are staggering to say the least—and so is the state of our roadways.
Those statistics point out that we, as an industry, recognize the need for more dollars to be raised to maintain and improve our infrastructure. In fact, TCA members have even endorsed a policy to support an increase in their fuel taxes to better fund the Highway Trust Fund so that our roads and bridges can be safer and more productive in today’s economy. Unfortunately, many did not feel that the time was right to introduce a raise in any tax, much less a fuel tax.
As you are well aware, I generally write about safety-related issues, but here I am taking the infrastructure slant. To be honest, a crumbling infrastructure has a strong safety correlation. Think of all that can go wrong on our roadways if they are not maintained or improved. Improvements that eliminate bottlenecks around major urban areas are first and foremost, since reducing risk for truck and cars alike would go a long way to improving safety. A crumbling infrastructure can have severe safety implications. A cracked windshield or flat tire can cause a vehicle to lose control and affect fellow drivers.
The implications can be endless, and the time to start preparing and thinking about highway funding for the next bill is now. Industry leaders themselves are encouraging outside-the-box thinking. In addition to increasing the fuel tax, theories like indexing the fuel tax to account for inflation or researching a vehicle miles traveled tax to pay for our road and highway improvements abound. In fact, a recent bill was introduced in the House to explore exactly that, a bill that directs the Secretary of Transportation to study alternatives to the current system of taxing motor vehicle fuels, including systems based on the number of miles traveled by each vehicle.
Not wanting to rehash the earlier numbers that I had provided, the country’s infrastructure needs drastic improvement. It was a platform during the last highway reauthorization and nothing got accomplished. It was a platform during the most recent election, and it will continue to be a platform until a solution is developed for the next highway bill.
I would encourage each of you to take this opportunity to urge your government leaders to use this time appropriately and begin planning for our next highway bill in order to recommend and implement the changes that we really need, including how we pay for them.