March 9, 2015 3:16 AM, EDT

Utah Trucking Group Backs State’s Efforts to Fund Construction Through Fuel-Tax Hike

By Eugene Mulero, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the March 9 print edition of Transport Topics.

Legislation that would increase the state’s fuel taxes is expected to reach Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s desk this spring and is seen as a potential boost for freight industries.

The legislation, sponsored Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, would provide about $40 million more per year for the state Department of Transportation by raising the gasoline tax by 10 cents and diesel tax by 5 cents. The additional revenue would help pay for road maintenance projects to alleviate bottlenecks along interstates and major industrial highways.

“The atmosphere in the state of Utah is pretty good for some sort of a tax increase or adjustment formula that would result in additional revenues this year,” Richard Clasby, executive director of the Utah Trucking Association, told Transport Topics on March 2.

Currently, the state’s diesel fuel tax and gasoline tax are 24.5 cents per gallon.

The bill also would, beginning in 2017, fund an additional $25 million annually for bridge repairs.

The legislation has gained momentum this year primarily because the federal government is no longer seen as a reliable partner for transportation projects. Funding authority for federal highway programs expires at the end of May, and Congress is not close to considering legislation that would ensure long-term reimbursements for state projects.

Utah is the latest example of legislatures tackling transportation funding concerns. Last month, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) signed a bill raising the state’s gasoline and diesel fuel taxes by 10 cents a gallon, and nearly a dozen other states are considering similar measures.

“It is one of those things where the current process relies on federal funding, and so having a long-term funding plan where our local departments of transportation can count on and budget for dollars to make these enhancements, it just is critical to our being able to continue to grow business in the state of Utah,” Clasby said.

UTA also praised the Utah Senate for recently approving a resolution calling on federal lawmakers to allow extended tractor-trailers on roadways. Utah legislators, led by Van Tassell, are among the proponents pushing the U.S. Department of Transportation to reconsider size and weight restrictions on trucks.

In Washington, D.C., last month, Utah Department of Transportation Executive Director Carlos Braceras told a Senate panel that Utah and other states depend on federal support to realize the completion of large-scale highway projects beneficial for commuters and industries. Braceras noted that Utah either completed or has kicked off major road reconstruction projects throughout the Salt Lake City metropolitan area, such

as the extension of the Mount-ain View Corridor, to recruit businesses.

Without knowing whether Congress would back a long-term highway funding bill this year, infrastructure projects could be halted, which could cause businesses not to relocate in the area, he said.

“With the uncertainty of when, or even if, Congress will authorize the rest of the 2015 program, Utah, and other cold-weather states, may miss this construction year for a full third of our programs. It will also force us to advertise projects late in the construction season, resulting in less competitive bidding, less value for the public’s investment and the potential for delaying important and needed projects that will improve communities and their economies,” Braceras said.

“Any effort to disrupt the federally funded, state-administered structure of the federal-aid highway program that has served our nation with great success could undermine the very foundation of a strong federal role in transportation investment,” he added.

Nationwide, state DOTs rely on the federal highway program for about half of what they spend on infrastructure projects.