No one likes to pay taxes. But the federal gas taxes you pay each time you fill your tank go directly to repair and modernize roads and bridges. It is a true user fee. The Highway Trust Fund, designed as a stable pot of money to fund the construction of the Interstate Highway System, was created in 1956. Since that time it has relied on revenue derived from federal gas and diesel taxes to fund roads and bridges. The gas tax was 3 cents per gallon in 1956 and gradually increased over the years to its current 18.4 cents set in 1993. For several decades the Trust Fund’s balances were growing but since 2008, spending on roads, bridges and transit has outpaced gas tax revenues. This is because the gas tax is not indexed to inflation and has not been increased since 1993. Over the same period the fuel efficiency of cars and trucks has dramatically improved and there are also more vehicles on the roads that use little or no gas at all. Consequently, the gas tax has lost 65 percent of its purchasing power and would need to be increased to 50.8 cents per gallon to make up for lost ground. The result is that the Highway Trust Fund can no longer sustain current levels of funding without the infusion of additional revenue.
There have been countless reports and studies that have recommended ways to boost revenue into the Highway Trust Fund or to transition to alternate means of funding the nation’s surface transportation network. One of these was a Congressionally authorized report published in 2009 - that National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Report Paying Our Way - that recommended several options for funding and financing surface transportation.