Transportation Financing Commission declares American ‘safety, economic competitiveness & quality of life’ at risk
Freight fees test as ‘strong’ or ‘moderate’ contenders as revenue sources for future program; more study needed
The National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission released its report to Congress, Paying Our Way: A New Framework for Transportation Finance, which analyzes the state of our highway and transit needs and the finances of the Highway Trust Fund. The report concludes that system insolvency demands a modest increase, roughly $5 a month per vehicle, in federal fuel taxes in the short term, with a shift to a different and more sustainable user fee for the future.
For the third time in as many years, a major high-level transportation analysis has documented the deterioration of the transportation system and the crisis our nation faces due to its current funding structure. The limits of its Congressional mandate kept the Commission from investigating the needs of our multimodal freight network, but an evaluation of potential funding sources found a number of freight-related fees to have strong to moderate potential when rated on both revenue and ease-of application criteria.
‘This report is a wake-up call that we cannot take a wait-and-see approach any longer. We must begin putting new policies in place now that will provide for a strong, efficient transportation system to move both people and goods,’ said Mortimer Downey, former US Deputy Secretary of Transportation and Senior Advisor of Parsons Brinckerhoff.
The report concludes the funding gap for highways and transit at the federal level totals ‘nearly $400 billion in 2010-2015 and grows dramatically to about $2.3 trillion through 2035.’ To meet these needs in the short term, the Commission recommends an increase in the federal gasoline and diesel fuel taxes of 10’ and 15’, respectively. In the long term, the Commission calls for a transition to a new fee structure, based on system use rather than fuel consumption, commonly referred to as a vehicle miles traveled, or VMT, system.
‘While the report fails to directly address the specific needs of the nation’s freight system ’ which are more diverse and complicated than those of the federal highway and transit systems ’ it does consider several options for freight specific fees,’ remarked Leslie Blakey, executive director of the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC). ‘Many freight system users have indicated a willingness to pay such fees only if they are dedicated to freight transportation infrastructure improvements exclusively.’
In order to meet the nation’s freight needs and ensure ongoing economic success and competitiveness, CAGTC is calling for the creation of a dedicated freight trust fund and national freight program. In its proposal, Freight 21: A National Strategic Freight Mobility Program and Trust Fund, CAGTC outlines a federal freight program with four key components:
- A national strategy to guide long-term planning;
- A dedicated and firewalled funding mechanism(s);
- Merit-based criteria for allocating funds; and
- A partnership with the private sector.
The Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC) is a diverse coalition of more than 60 organizations dedicated to increasing federal investment in America’s intermodal freight infrastructure. In contrast to single mode interests, CAGTC’s main mission is to promote a seamless goods movement transportation system across all modes to enhance capacity and economic growth.