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February 23, 2019 4:30 PM, EST

Governors Discuss Trucking’s Role in Raising Infrastructure Funds

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin by Eleanor Lamb/Transport Topics

WASHINGTON — The trucking industry can serve as a testing ground for vehicle-miles-traveled programs to raise funds for road projects, according to governors discussing infrastructure during a recent conference.

They told the National Governors Association’s winter meeting here Feb. 23 that trucks are good candidates for these user-based revenue mechanisms because many companies already use technology to track distance traveled.

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Some states already have started to test VMT and miles-based user fee programs as ways to raise money for infrastructure projects. These programs require technology to tabulate how far a vehicle has traveled, and that information helps determine how much a vehicle is charged. However, the technology can raise concerns over privacy and security.

“I throw it out only because they’re already monitored in this exact way,” Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin told Transport Topics. “That’s just a thought as it relates to them, especially since so many of them use a fuel and get it in a location different than passenger vehicles do.”

Many states are pursuing infrastructure funding mechanisms to counterbalance the flagging federal Highway Trust Fund, which helps states with construction and maintenance projects and relies heavily on the federal fuel tax.

The federal fuel tax has stagnated at 24.4 cents a gallon for diesel and 18.4 cents a gallon for gasoline since 1993.

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Improvements in fuel consumption and shifting driving habits contribute to the Highway Trust Fund’s steady decline, prompting several transfers from the general fund in recent years to maintain its solvency.

Increasing the fuel tax is a necessary step in generating infrastructure funds, according to Ed Rendell, former Pennsylvania governor and co-chair of the Building America’s Future Educational Fund. Building America’s Future is a bipartisan group of elected officials who advocate for investment in infrastructure and educate the public on infrastructure-related policy matters.

Rendell said the long-awaited federal infrastructure deal must feature a fuel tax hike. President Donald Trump’s proposed infrastructure package would rely significantly on nonfederal funds to reach $1.5 trillion over 10 years. Of that amount, $200 billion would come from federal funds.

Rendell said when the fuel tax was last adjusted in 1993, the average price of a car was $12,000. “Virtually everything has doubled or tripled. It is time for the federal government to do what we need to do,” he said. “There’s no such thing as a successful infrastructure bill unless it includes an increase in the gas tax.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the House transportation leader, said he plans to release an infrastructure plan this summer.

There’s no such thing as a successful infrastructure bill unless it includes an increase in the gas tax.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell

Last year, Congress did not address Trump’s infrastructure proposal or retired Rep. Bill Shuster’s (R-Pa.) draft plan, which proposed a fuel tax increase.

Shuster, who was chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also participated in the conference. He said infrastructure is an issue that demands the involvement of all levels of government.

Former Pennsylvania Rep. Bill Shuster

Shuster (center) by Eleanor Lamb/Transport Topics

“This is a federal role. This is a role for all governments,” Shuster said. “It’s something that’s fundamental to this country. It connects our states for interstate commerce.”

Rendell agreed, adding that public-private partnerships alone aren’t enough to sustain infrastructure funding. He identified infrastructure as one issue that lawmakers can agree on in a bipartisan fashion.

“There are no Democratic ways to build a road; there are no Republican ways to build a road,” Rendell said. “Yes, we need the private sector. But can the private sector do it alone? Of course not.”