Transportation Policy

Approximately every six years, Congress authorizes a funding and policy package that defines federal support to states for transportation infrastructure planning and projects. The content of this bill has far-reaching effects on states and regions and their economic competitiveness, transportation options, land use patterns, environmental quality, and public health.

In 1991, Congress passed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act that signaled a major shift in federal policy from a “highway bill” to a comprehensive “transportation bill”. The programs and policy structure of that bill have largely been retained in successive reauthorizations – first the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) in 1998 and then the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA – LU) in 2004, which expired in September 2009. Transportation funding was then extended nine times by Congress through continuing resolutions of the previous bill, not reaching agreement on a new bill until June 2012. The new bill , the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), was signed into law by President Obama on July 6, 2012. It authorizes public transportation and highway program expenditures at over $105 billion through September 2014.

The Highway Trust Fund (HTF) continues to be the revenue source for 80 percent of federal transit investment (e.g. $8.6B of $10.7B in FY 2014), and virtually all federal highway spending. The HTF collects 90 percent of its revenue from the federal fuels taxes on gasoline (18.4 cents per gallon) and diesel (24.4 cents per gallon). These taxes, viewed as a “user fee” for the transportation system, have not been raised in nearly 20 years and has led to the declining purchasing power of the HTF. The remaining revenue is received from a sales tax on new heavy trucks and trailers, as well as heavy truck tire and use taxes. MAP-21 extends collection of these taxes through September 2016. Since 2008, these revenue sources have been insufficient, and general revenues have been used as supplements. The MAP-21 bill continued this practice, with $18.8 billion in general funds in FY13 and FY14 combined, with offsetting spending reductions elsewhere. With this funding, the HTF is projected to remain temporarily solvent through the authorization period.

The world and the nation have changed since 1991. Energy security, rising fuel prices, climate change, and global economic competitiveness have become more urgent issues at a time when the US transportation and infrastructure system has fallen into a state of disrepair. A 2013 Report Card by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States an overall infrastructure grade of D+; roads received a D, bridges a C+, and transit a D. In order to improve the condition of U.S. surface transportation infrastructure to “Good,” the report estimates an annual funding gap of $94 billion needs to be addressed. A robust and well funded transportation and infrastructure reauthorization is necessary for the U.S. to maintain its competitive edge and propel economic growth.

The convergence or “perfect storm” of energy, climate, economic, and funding crises points to both the opportunity and the need for a new federal approach to meeting our transportation needs. EESI is working with business, labor, environmental, housing, energy, and other diverse interests to develop a federal transportation policy that meets the nation’s needs for the 21st century.

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