PRINCETON, NJ. “America is a big mess” when it comes to transportation and infrastructure, according to former U.S. Sec. of Transportation Ray LaHood. “Our infrastructure is probably the worst it has ever been in the history of our country – American is one big pothole,” he told fleet and other trucking industry executives at the 2014 ALK Technology Summit.
The problem is insufficient funds from the Federal fuel tax to keep up with infrastructure requirements, the former DOT chief said. “Here’s the really bad news,” he said. “The Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which is the fund that all of you contribute to when you buy a gallon of gas, which is the fund that built the Interstate, which is the fund that built roads and bridges all over America for the last hundred years, that fund will be broke by the end of the summer. And no one in Washington is talking about how to fix it.”
Worse, the two-year authorization act that governs collection of fuel taxes expires in September, and Congress seems to have little appetite for passing a new authorization bill before the November election, the former Republican congressman said.
The solution is a return to six-year authorization bills that bring some continuity to infrastructure investment and an increase in the Federal fuel tax indexed to inflation, according to LaHood. Acknowledging that “trucking already pays a lot of taxes,” he told the group rebuilding a sound transportation network “requires the resources to do it. The idea of raising the gas tax is not a novel idea; it’s a needed idea.”
LaHood predicted that Congress will avoid a highway bill “so they won’t have to take a vote on raising taxes before the elections.” Instead, he believes they will vote for a temporary fix before the summer recess in August by authorizing a transfer from the general fund to the HTF that will keep it solvent until after the November elections. “That’s a disaster because there’s no vision,” he said. “It’s just enough to diddle along.”
“The way to stop it is not that complicated,” LaHood said. “Elect people who want to carry on the rich tradition [of investing in American infrastructure]; not the naysayers, but people who want to vote to solve problems, to do big thing, to keep America moving forward.”
LaHood, who served as Transportation Secretary from 2009 until last July, also urged the industry to “educate Washington” about trucking’s current state of art technology. “You are so far ahead on the technology side…you need to bring some of your smart people to the table with members of Congress so they know all the things you’re doing. … We need to use good technology and you’re way ahead of the curve on this.”