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St. Louis Post Dispatch: Highway Trust Fund is Running on Empty

By Ray LaHood

06/30/14

The cost of everything has gone up over the past 21 years. If you wanted to go see Cardinals slugger Mark Whiten hit one out the park in 1993 the average ticket price was $15. Today you would pay on average $32 to see Adam Wainwright strike out another batter. The average cost of a movie ticket was $4.00 and today it is three times as much. Back then you could buy a gallon of gasoline for $1.11 while today it is $3.50.

The only thing that has not changed in the past 21 years is the 18.4 cent per gallon federal gas tax. In inflation adjusted terms, it has lost a third of its purchasing power and is worth only 11.5 cents today. This is important because the gas tax is the primary source of revenue for the Highway Trust Fund that pays for the nation’s roads and bridges.

But this once reliable source of funding is in grave danger of drying up if Congress does not act this summer.

Since the gas tax was last increased in 1993, cars have become much more fuel efficient, and hybrids and electric vehicles that use little or no gas are on the rise. Between more fuel efficient cars and a gas tax that is limping along, the Highway Trust Fund is running on empty.

If you think that this does not impact you — think again. Twenty eight percent of this state’s bridges are structurally unsound or unable to accommodate current traffic volumes. And with 10 percent of this state’s major roads in poor or mediocre condition it is already costing the average Missouri driver $380 per year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs.

Missouri, like most other states, cannot afford to go it alone when it comes to maintaining and modernizing its roads, bridges and transit systems. This state depends on federal funding for more than 60 percent of its transportation budget. And with the state’s infrastructure graded a C- by the American Society of Civil Engineers in their 2013 Report Card on Missouri’s Infrastructure, it can ill afford to lose these precious dollars.

To prevent the Highway Trust Fund from going bankrupt, Congress must inject new revenue into the Trust Fund. Failure to do so would curtail critical construction projects such as the Poplar Street Bridge project in St. Louis and would kill hundreds of middle-class construction jobs, potentially during the peak summer construction season.

That would be terrible for our economy, which is just getting back on its feet. And it would have direct consequences here in Missouri as the state could lose $1 billion in federal funds.

The years of kicking the can down the pothole-filled road must end. That is why I am participating in a policy forum on July 1 to discuss how a long-term plan of smart infrastructure investments will grow the economy and enhance the nation’s economic competitiveness. The forum, co-hosted by Building America’s Future, the St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Associated General Contractors of St. Louis and the American Society of Civil Engineers, couldn’t come at a better time as Congress must act during July to rescue the federal Highway Trust Fund from bankruptcy.

The time is now for decisive action and real solutions. The economic prosperity of our nation and that of Missouri depends upon it.

Ray LaHood is the former Secretary of the Department of Transportation and a co-chair of Building America’s Future, a bipartisan group of former and current elected officials dedicated to bringing about a new era of U.S. investment in infrastructure that enhances our nation’s prosperity and quality of life.

Source - St. Louis Post Dispatch