WASHINGTON — The expiration this fall of the country’s central highway policy law means that its reauthorization must be urgently addressed by Congress, Ed Mortimer, transportation director at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told a Senate committee Feb. 25.
“The time is now for elected officials in Washington to take charge and tackle the problem with both adequate funding and a long-term plan,” said Mortimer, who delivered expert testimony before the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, which oversees transit.
“For years, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has supported meaningful action to maintain and expand our once-unequaled infrastructure, and we’ve continued to offer a slate of potential solutions to prove it,” he went on.
The chamber is proposing an increase in fuel taxes that would generate revenue for an account integral to funding highway projects. Specifically, the group calls for increasing the gas and diesel tax rates five cents annually over five years to a total of 25 cents, indexed for inflation. The revenue would feed into the Highway Trust Fund, an account projected to approach insolvency in less than two years. The 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax and 24.4 cents-per-gallon diesel tax was set in 1993.
Other groups either endorse the chamber’s proposal or have issued similar recommendations for policymakers to consider.
“The proposal would raise $394 billion over the next 10 years, which would be invested in our highways, bridges and transit systems in a fiscally responsible fashion. When combined with state, local and private sector funds, this would go a long way towards modernizing our once-great surface transportation network,” Mortimer explained in his written remarks to the panel.
This year, neither Congress nor the White House have proposed a fix for the trust fund. A Senate committee with jurisdiction over surface transportation policy advanced a five-year bill last year. Missing from that measure is input from the committees with jurisdiction over transit, freight and the trust fund. House policymakers have yet to unveil their version.