Will We Be Held Hostage by the Highway Lobby?

Will We Be Held Hostage by the Highway Lobby?

In many ways providing varied, effective and green transportation options depend on funding. Not necessarily the overall amount of transportation funding, but its allocation. We should all be aware of the following developments (news from Congressional Quarterly):

For more than half a century, highway advocates have been the loudest voices on transportation policy, but that may change this year as some lawmakers push to include more funding for public transit in the next authorization bill.

The federal Highway Trust Fund now apportions about 81 percent toward roads and bridges and 19 percent to mass transit. Some lawmakers and transit advocates are mounting a significant campaign to level the funding distribution, which has highway supporters warning that such a funding shift could upset sensitive plans — including a possible increase in the federal gasoline tax — to boost trust fund receipts.

“If the bill starts looking more negative on highways, then users that have been supportive of fuel tax increases would turn their back on it,” said Greg Cohen, chief executive of the American Highway Users Alliance. “There is potential that the whole bill could be slowed down here.”

The major sticking point is funding. If more trust fund money is directed to transit projects, then trucking and highway groups will complain about the fairness of using their fees to pay for rail projects. They especially reject a unified transportation trust fund that would pay for all surface transportation out of the same pot of money.

The revenue from gasoline and other motor fuel taxes has not kept pace with transportation spending, as vehicles become more fuel-efficient and the recession has reduced some highway travel. It is largely accepted that without a tax increase transportation projects will be dramatically cut back. Most transportation groups support raising the gasoline tax.

The increased investment for transit is strongly endorsed by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood , who joked at the National Press Club recently that he’s trying to coerce people to cut back their driving.

“We’ve laid out what we think are opportunities for people to get out of their cars,” he said.


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