New Surface Transportation Bill Would Provide Funding Needed to Improve Roads, Bridges and Transit Systems
Andrew W. Herrmann, past president of the American Society of Civil Engineers & principal with Hardesty & Hanover, LLP
(Reston, VA, Tuesday, November 17, 2015) – Transportation impacts every American. America’s roads and transit systems have both received “D” grades, and bridges received a grade of “C+,” according to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The poor condition of our roads, bridges, and transit systems are a drag on the economy. The poor conditions are costing the average American family $1,060 a year until at least 2020. And, we are all losing time stuck in traffic – on average 38 hours a year.
Nationally, we are in need of increased investment into our surface transportation network to help improve these grades. The week of November 16th, U.S. House of Representatives and Senate members will make a final push to come to agreement on the surface transportation bill—the legislation that provides funding and policy for America’s roads, bridges and transit systems. The House and Senate conference committee needs to get a multiyear bill to the President’s desk that increases the funding levels from the last reauthorization bill before Thanksgiving, the busiest travel holiday of the year.
This bill has been a long time coming. It’s been a decade since the last multiyear bill was passed—an important component to a good surface transportation bill because states rely on the federal government to be a reliable partner in investing in big projects that take many years to plan and build. Over the past two years, Congress has opted for short-term extensions ranging for three weeks to 10 months. That meant states were uncertain that federal funding for transportation projects would be available in the coming weeks.
At the root of the issue, and why it took so many years for Congress to agree upon a multiyear bill, is the Highway Trust Fund. Created in the 1950s, this fund serves as America’s transportation bank account, using dedicated funds from the gas tax to pay for roads, bridges, and public transportation improvements. It was designed to be a “pay-as-you-go” fund: as drivers fill their cars’ gas tanks, a portion goes into the federal Highway Trust Fund, and in turn that money is sent back to the states to pay for projects. In recent years the fund has frequently teetered on insolvency because the gas tax has not been raised since 1993, back when a new car cost $12,750.
Increased investment will allow states to address the backlog of needs: getting Americans out of traffic and hitting fewer potholes.