America’s crumbling roadways and bridges continue to deteriorate in 2019 with a lack of clear direction regarding the future of federal infrastructure funding. This year, the trucking industry will move more than 70 percent of the nation’s freight, hauling goods worth more than $12 trillion, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA). Poorly maintained roads cause traffic congestion, which creates wear and tear on vehicles, wastes fuel and increases emissions, and produces additional stress for drivers. The transportation industry takes a large hit to productivity and faces increased operational costs as trucks sit idle in congested traffic and navigate poor highways.
Investing in failing infrastructure as a nation can improve traffic flow, reduce emissions, and increase driving safety across the country. Infrastructure investment has the added benefit of creating countless jobs and boosting the economy through increased productivity of the transportation industry.
According to the “Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry” report by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), transportation infrastructure, congestion, and funding are among the top 10 major concerns for the industry. While the report offered several proposed strategies for improving infrastructure funding, the primary method was to increase fuel taxes and other user fees. Other funding options include tolls or a vehicle-miles-traveled fee.
The ATRI report states, “The persistent shortfall of highway funding in the United States is due, in part, to an erosion of federal motor fuels tax revenue. This erosion can be attributed to improvements in fuel economy, inflation, and stagnant fuel tax rates.” The federal fuel tax rate has been stagnate since 1993, for both diesel and gasoline. These taxes have also been used for non-highway projects in the past, instead of focusing solely on road infrastructure. By increasing fuel taxes and ensuring the funds go directly to roadway improvement, the country may be able to turn the tide on its failing infrastructure, according to ATRI.
Similarly, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) regularly publishes infrastructure report cards for states, regions, and the country. In 2019, the country as a whole earned a D+. ASCE brought these report cards before Congress earlier this year, hoping that the easily digestible format of a report card would help communicate to legislatures the importance of infrastructure investment.
Recently, representatives from ASCE and ATA met before the House of Representative’s Ways and Means Committee, using the opportunity to push changes to increase federal infrastructure funding. Both organizations support an increase to the federal motor fuel tax as the primary financing solution. Another proposed solution, the Build America Fund, includes funding ideas such as a new 20 cents per gallon fee or increased vehicle registration fees with a focus on hybrid and electric vehicles (as they pay less in fuel taxes but still cause congestion and wear and tear on roadways). The ATA and the proposed fund are firmly against increasing tolls.
In April 2019, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said that Democrats and President Trump had reached an agreement on a $2 trillion infrastructure measure. A few weeks later, President Trump abruptly walked out of a meeting to discuss the measure further and has since stated that he will not move forward with the plan until investigations and allegations against his presidency were stopped. As of October 2019, the future of the infrastructure measure is unsure.
Earlier this month, Congress started to ready a comprehensive highway bill. The newly formed Future of Transportation Caucus, made up of nearly two dozen U.S. House lawmakers, will focus on modernizing the country’s transportation landscape with an emphasis on freight and passenger corridors. According to caucus leaders, priority will be given to equity, access, and sustainability across the board, versus only advocating for additional funding. The group's aim is to present policy recommendations to update the 2015 FAST Act highway law. They hope to clear the bill for the President’s desk by fall 2020.
The Highway Trust Fund, the primary source of federal revenue for roadway infrastructure investments—including fuel taxes—is projected to run short of the funds necessary for current spending levels by 2021, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The trucking industry must continue to press legislatures to find new and improved ways of funding and repairing the nation’s roadways.