By Jill Ingrassia, Managing Director of AAA’s Government Relations and Traffic Safety Advocacy Department
America’s transportation infrastructure needs help. A recent study from The American Society of Civil Engineers gives low marks to U.S. roads and bridges and estimates that by 2025 we will have a surface-transportation funding gap of $1.1 trillion. Meanwhile, a 2017 Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) driving data report showed we’re buying more cars and driving more miles, with miles traveled increasing for the sixth straight year. The widening transportation funding gap and increases in vehicle miles traveled are further evidence that improving the nation’s infrastructure is as important as ever, and our needs will only grow.
American Automobile Association (AAA) has long advocated for increased and specifically dedicated funding for transportation infrastructure. In the immediate term, raising the federal gas tax is the easiest and most direct solution to increase funding. That being said, it won’t be viable as a long-term solution, so consideration of other options is also necessary. Presidents from both parties have previously signed gas tax increases into law; however, Congress has avoided taking action since the last increase in 1993. Failing to index the federal gas tax to inflation, or take action to keep pace with increasingly fuel-efficient vehicles, has significantly reduced the buying power of a 1993-era fuel tax. In turn, many states have been forced to increase their own gas tax in lieu of action at the federal level.
The widening transportation funding gap and increases in vehicle miles traveled are further evidence that improving the nation’s infrastructure is as important as ever.
Looking beyond the gas tax, AAA has been supportive of pilot testing user-based alternatives — like road usage charges (RUC) — to fund transportation in the future. However, even supporters of current RUC pilots, like those in Oregon or California, admit that widespread implementation will take more time.
As an organization that is first and foremost concerned with the safety of our members, the structural integrity of the nation’s transportation infrastructure needs to be a top priority. But we also need to plan for the future of mobility. Any agreed upon funding solutions, infrastructure repair, or new project construction needs to be executed in a way that factors in laying the foundation for future transportation needs. Continuity between signage, AV systems, vehicle-to-vehicle communication, and infrastructure embedded with technology to allow all of it to function in a safe and efficient manner requires significant forethought and financial resources. If we don’t first agree that these are indeed priorities and find fair and sustainable ways to fund them, then the nation’s infrastructure will remain stagnant — and likely less safe — as other countries realize a fully modern transportation system.