WASHINGTON — The new leader of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association said he believes that raising and indexing federal fuel taxes is the best way to achieve sustainable funding for infrastructure upgrades needed around the country.
“The fuel tax has been proven to be the most effective, transparent and equitable revenue stream that is available to support surface transportation infrastructure investments,” Dave Bauer, the new president and CEO of ARTBA, told Transport Topics in a recent interview at the group’s headquarters near the U.S. Capitol. “The most important thing is that we get a solution once and for all.”
“It’s time to stop talking about investing in #infrastructure and get to work fixing it.” @ARTBA President & CEO Dave Bauer #InvestInInfrastructure #FixTheTrustFund https://t.co/aS7Nu7g3z0 pic.twitter.com/A4FYHasHq7— ARTBA (@ARTBA) February 13, 2019
Increasing fuel taxes — a position ARTBA shares with trucking firms, ports, transportation unions, chambers of commerce and freight rail, among others — would restore the Highway Trust Fund, said Bauer. He succeeded the group’s longtime leader, Pete Ruane, at the start of the year.
Alternatives, such as a nationwide adoption of a vehicle-miles-traveled fee, is several years away, while public-private partnerships are incapable of addressing the majority of the funding concerns with the transportation grid, industry leaders have said. The country’s infrastructure has garnered an overall D+ grade by the American Society of Civil Engineers, and ARTBA determined in its annual analysis of the country’s bridges that more than 54,000 are structurally deficient.
Bauer, who takes over after Ruane spent three decades as the group’s leader, pledged to carry on ARTBA’s campaign for greater funding for infrastructure projects. The group has often partnered with other stakeholders, and is among the leading voices within the Transportation Construction Coalition, a group made up of associations and labor unions advocating for a long-term fix to the Highway Trust Fund. The coalition gathers annually in the spring to lobby members of Congress on myriad infrastructure priorities.
Pete Ruane led ARTBA for three decades. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)
President Donald Trump has repeatedly called for robust funding to rebuild the country’s roads and bridges, Bauer noted. Additionally, Senate Republican leaders and the new Democratic leadership in the House say infrastructure policy is fertile ground for bipartisanship.
“You can easily lapse into a feeling of … everything is recycled and all that, but it’s not. The world changes every couple of years with the results of new elections and the evolution of national dialogue, priorities,” Bauer explained. “Infrastructure doesn’t go away. It’s always part of the national discussion about how are we going to meet our other goals because everything resides on infrastructure.”
He also noted the recent Rasmussen Reports poll by his group and the American Public Transportation Association that found 90% of respondents say House Democrats and Trump “should work together during 2019 to pass legislation that would improve other infrastructure.”
Notwithstanding polls and data emphasizing the urgency of the matter, political divisiveness has the potential of delaying or halting infrastructure funding negotiations. That has been the case during previous administrations, but Bauer said ARTBA is committed to reminding Congress of the common ground.
“If their decision is that they want to spend the next two years retreating to their respective corners, putting on boxing gloves and pummeling one another, then so be it,” Bauer said. “But we’re going to make sure that they know that there’s a path toward delivering an outcome for the people who sent them to Washington to make their lives better. And that path is infrastructure.”
Analysts estimate the trust fund, used by the U.S. Department of Transportation to assist states, will need supplemental funding by 2021 to stay operational. Insufficient revenue from the 24.4-cents-per-gallon diesel tax, and 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax feeds into the account. Federal fuel taxes have not been raised since 1993.