Rep. Sam Graves recently wrote to his colleagues in Congress stressing the need to implement a long-term solution to bankrolling the Highway Trust Fund — the financial mechanism to maintain, upgrade and build our federal roads and bridges. Traditionally funded through the federal fuel tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, the fund has required $143 billion of general taxpayer dollars as the gas tax falls woefully short of meeting funding needs.
“The long-term sustainability of the Highway Trust Fund is critical for strengthening investment in our nation’s surface transportation,” Graves wrote alongside Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat from the District of Columbia. The freight rail industry, which pays for its own infrastructure, couldn’t agree more and offers some advice: Users of infrastructure should pay for the infrastructure they use.
The existing gas tax model is deeply flawed and forces taxpayers to pay for infrastructure damage they didn’t necessarily cause. This is due, in part, to continual underpayments by large trucks — money that doesn’t cover the cost for the infrastructure they use.
Reestablishing equality among transportation modes will go a long way in bridging the Highway Trust Fund funding delta and setting our country’s infrastructure on a sustainable path for the future.
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Some states have begun to implement a vehicle miles traveled tax, a fee on everyday drivers and truckers alike based upon the distance they drive. A few states have taken it a step further by factoring in the weight of the vehicle — a so-called weight distance fee — a truly equitable fee structure that differentiates between everyday and commercial drivers.
In Kansas City, the impact of the freight rail sector is felt directly by carriers such as BNSF Railway, Canadian Pacific, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific — five of the seven major “Class I” operators in the U.S. — serving the industries throughout the region.
Graves deserves praise for putting all options on the table and pushing for a solution. We hope the discussion moves toward long-term solutions as well.
Ian Jefferies, Association of American Railroads,