The nation’s interstates and bridges need higher federal fuel taxes and tolls to pay for infrastructure repairs, according to a new study by the Transportation Research Board.
It will take $45 billion to $70 billion a year for the next 20 years just to modernize highway surfaces. Federal and state governments currently spend about $20 billion to $25 billion a year, the report said.
“Most (interstate highways) have exceeded their design lives,” said Norman Augustine, former chief executive of defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. He chaired the committee that wrote the 649-page report.
The study excluded the cost of reconfiguring or reconstructing 15,000 interstate interchanges to make them more resilient to the effects of climate change. Nor did it estimate how much it would cost to fix bridges, more than a third of which have been in service for more than 50 years.
Heavy use by heavy-duty trucks
The federal highway system authorized by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956 amounts to just 1 percent of all roadways. But it accounts for about a quarter of the total vehicle miles traveled every year, including about half the miles traveled by heavy-duty trucks.
The American Trucking Associations is pushing for a federal gas tax increase of 5 cents a year for four years that would raise $340 billion for highway infrastructure fixes.
But the ATA argues against tolls, which it says discriminate against truckers and add to the cost of moving freight.
“The fuel tax has and continues to be the most conservative, immediate and efficient way to fund infrastructure,” Chris Spear, ATA chief executive, told Trucks.com. “And it doesn’t add one penny to the deficit.
“Less than one penny on the dollar (from the gas tax) goes to administration,” he said. “Tolling can be as much as 35 cents on the dollar to administer.”
The report did not recommend a specific increase in the federal gas tax, last raised in 1993.
No action on Trump plan
A $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan proposed by President Donald Trump during his 2016 campaign has yet to find traction in the U.S. Congress.
Advancing infrastructure legislation was a focus of the ATA’s recent annual meeting, at which Spear said he thinks it has a good chance of congressional action in 2019.
Traffic bottlenecks on interstates near major cities cost the trucking industry $74.5 billion a year, according to the American Transportation Research Institute, the research arm of the ATA.
The interstate system “suffer(s) from severe congestion, mainly in urban areas,” the report said.
The report’s authors urged Congress to legislate an Interstate Highway System Renewal and Modernization Program over and above routine maintenance spending. It would be modeled on the original interstate construction program.
The research board said the federal government should shoulder 90 percent of the bill. It said Congress should lift a ban on tolls on existing interstates.
Congress mandated the TRB report as part of the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation, or FAST, Act. The TRB is part of the nonprofit National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.