February 15, 2018 2:15 PM, EST

Editorial: Time to Talk Fuel Taxes

Now is the time to get serious about fixing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, which means it’s also time to raise fuel taxes to pay for it.

There are indications that President Donald Trump is open to the idea.

Trump has delivered to Congress a proposal that shifts much of the responsibility for funding infrastructure projects to state and local governments and leaves open the possibility of using more tolls and public-private partnerships to finance the construction of roads and bridges.

We have long said that raising fuel taxes should be considered as a means of paying for repairs to our nation’s roads, and reports last week suggested Trump was open to as much as a 25-cent hike in fuel taxes. While it’s disappointing that he didn’t include this in his infrastructure plan, the fact that it’s something he will consider is good news for trucking. For her part, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao has said that “everything is on the table.”

So what will it take to ultimately persuade Congress (and the president) to include fuel taxes in the mix?

We suggest they take a close look at the Build America Fund, a proposal from American Trucking Associations that would assess a 20-cents-per-gallon fee on all transportation fuels, including diesel, gasoline and natural gas. The fee would be applied at the wholesale terminal rack, before fuel reaches the retail gas pump, and phased in over four years. The payoff: $340 billion over the next 10 years, enough money to shore up the rapidly depleting Highway Trust Fund and more.

We are all for making changes to speed up the permitting process, and we’re even OK with giving states more flexibility to pursue infrastructure projects, but none of that matters if the money isn’t there.

A fee on fuel sales is far more efficient than collecting tolls (99% of the money goes to the Highway Trust Fund versus 65% from tolling projects) and a user fee is strongly preferred by motorists (57% versus 23% for tolls in a national survey of 800 registered voters).

And if this isn’t convincing enough, we suggest listening to what former President Ronald Reagan had to say in 1982:

“America can’t afford throwaway roads or disposable transit systems. The bridges and highways we fail to repair today will have to be rebuilt tomorrow at many times the cost. What we’re proposing is to add the equivalent of 5 cents per gallon to the existing federal highway user fee. It’ll be paid for by those of us who use the system, and it will cost the average car owner only about $30 a year. That’s less than the cost of a couple of shock absorbers.”

Reagan was right. Now’s the time to get it done.