Wanted: Lawmakers to Invest in the Future

September 15th, 2014

By Jim Madaffer

This sign should be plastered all over Washington, D.C., as lawmakers return from summer break. Congress has had the past five weeks to visit their homes and travel on America’s crumbling highway system.

It is time for lawmakers to craft a long-term solution which includes multiple funding sources for transportation infrastructure, rather than relying on just one pot of money.

The outdated gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1993, yet it makes up about 85 percent of the nation’s transportation funding. As Americans find more environmentally-friendly means of travel, such as transit, bicycles and electric vehicles, they spend less on gas and less gas tax is generated. This results in an ever dwindling revenue stream for transportation infrastructure.

Earlier this year, Congress failed to settle on a funding solution punted the issue by transferring $53 billion from “pension savings” to the transportation fund. According to a report prepared by the nonprofit think tank Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, “by 2015, the transportation fund will be insolvent unless an additional $15 billion transfer is made. Larger transfers will be needed in subsequent years.”

Two western states, Washington and Oregon, are looking at one possible solution for the lack of transportation funding: a mileage-based fee or road user charge. If Gov. Jerry Brown signs SB 1077, California will also be able to explore the possibility of a program that requires users to contribute their fair share to the state’s transportation system based on how much they drive.

In fact, stakeholders such as the Southern California Association of Governments predict road user fees could raise a staggering $110.3 billion a year for Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Imperial counties alone.

But a one state solution isn’t enough. Our leaders in Washington must craft a program that works nationwide. We need a comprehensive package for the 21st century. The gas tax no longer works. Congress can’t even find the votes to raise it. Future funding sources must include a toolbox of revenue solutions including road user charges, tolling, value priced lanes, weight fees, vehicle license fees and more.

Years ago, the country’s leaders didn’t think twice when it came to funding for transportation infrastructure. They simply understood that a stable and reliable transportation system is critical for Americans to move.

It is time our elected leaders invest in our nation’s transportation infrastructure the way their predecessors did. The success of future generations depends on it.

Jim Madaffer is a member of the California Transportation Commission and a former San Diego City Councilmember.

Original commentary can be found here.