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Tolling Points

As Gas Tax Revenues Erode, Congress Needs New Funding Options

By: 
Bill Cramer

Congress has a new challenge to address as the countdown begins once again fund the federal Highway Trust Fund and pass a Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill.

Even if legislators increase the federal gas tax—a feat that was last accomplished in 1993, and has only limited House or Senate support—changing mobility patterns are steadily eroding the value of any gas tax.

“More fuel-efficient vehicles are driving down gasoline consumption, even as population growth means we’ll be driving more miles overall,” CQ Weekly reported in early January, citing U.S. Department of Energy data.

Even though population growth will increase overall vehicle miles travelled, “the total amount of gas consumed by cars and light trucks will fall from the equivalent of 8.26 million barrels a day today to 6.38 million barrels in 2040. That means Congress eventually will have to find another way to pay for infrastructure.”

And the impact may be even more striking: While the U.S. Energy Information Administration factors new fuel economy standards into its long-term projections, it assumes that 78% of light duty vehicles will still be sold with gasoline engines in 2040. If electric and/or alternate fuel vehicles enter the market more quickly, gas tax revenue to the federal Highway Trust Fund will decline even faster.

Either way, a combination of declining revenue and rising maintenance, repair, and highway expansion costs is not the recipe for clearing a highway funding deficit that already adds up to $17 billion per year.

Through its Moving America Forward campaign, IBTTA has been advocating that tolling is one part of the solution to a mounting financial crisis.

While the voice of the tolling industry, IBTTA realizes tolling isn’t the right answer for every road or every jurisdiction.

But from Tampa Bay truckers who are saving time and boosting incomes by paying tolls on a new connector between Interstate Highway 4 and the Selmon Expressway, to Atlanta-area commuters who have more than tripled their use of the I-85 Express Lanes since 2011, the message is clear: Motorists willingly pay their tolls, when they lead to improvements, such as easing congestion, on the roads they drive, providing reliable trips to save time and in some cases money.

If that message resonates well enough with legislators over the next four and a half months, 2015 might just be the year when the United States gets on the road to clearing the highway infrastructure crisis.

Click here for the latest on IBTTA’s public awareness campaign, Moving America Forward.

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