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Fuel taxes not enough for highway funding

Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters said recently the nation cannot rely solely on fossil-based fuel taxes to fund highway construction projects. Her comments were made at the 83rd annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies on Jan. 13.

Citing more fuel-efficient cars and alternative fuels, Peters explained that the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) is not keeping pace with demand as it did when the nation’s Interstates were first developed.

To maintain current conditions for highways and bridges for fiscal year 2001 to 2020, the average annual investment required would be $75.9 billion. The cost to improve them would be $106.9 billion across all levels of government. These figures were derived from the 2002 Conditions and Performance Report released by Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration.

Specifically, Peters encouraged the transportation research community to examine alternative funding methods “more along the lines of a public utility model where we pay for what we use based on the time of day we use it, [and] how many other people use it.”

Implementing a “demand management” system not only would generate additional sources of transportation investment capital, but also cater to the highway users of the system, according to Department of Transportation (DOT) Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy Emil Frankel.

Among other funding recommendations, DOT proposes lifting the current ban on tolling the interstate highway system and expanding the funding of transportation projects with public-private partnerships.