U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, in speaking with attendees at an American Road and Transportation Builders Association conference late last week in Washington, DC, said the Dept. of Transportation and by extension the Obama administration has no interest in raising fuel taxes to help fund infrastructure improvements in the U.S.
According to the Journal of Commerce, where the comments were reported, LaHood said that while the Highway Trust Fund’s revenues are “insufficient” to meet current needs, “tolling can raise a lot of money.”
He added that other programs, such as creating public-private partnerships and Obama’s plan to create a $4 billion infrastructure fund that DOT could hand out as it sees fit, would supplement tolling and current fuel taxes.
Early last year, LaHood seemed to suggest a vehicle miles tax (VMT) may be an option. “We should look at the vehicular miles program where people are actually clocked on the number of miles that they traveled,” LaHood said.
With the highway reauthorization bill sitting in limbo, all these comments need to be taken seriously since we don’t know what that bill will eventually include. Tolling may seem like a good idea, but that could lead to more traffic congestion at tolling stations, something the administration is also trying to mitigate.
Public-private partnerships also sound good, except we’re not building thousands of new roads these days. As a result, those partnerships result more in “selling” or “leasing” a current road to a private organization that promises to maintain the highway. OK, how is that organization making money on under this idea? Tolls, of course.
What is the answer? I don’t really know. LaHood, though, is probably right in that it needs to be a combination of funding mechanisms. Stay tuned.