June 27, 2017


Congress passed a five-year transportation funding measure in 2015, but our country needs a long-term deal to fix our nation's crumbling roads and bridges; problem is, lawmakers can't agree on how to pay for all the necessary repairs. Here, with the help of Emojis, is a look at why the problem exists and an explanation of the most sensible, sustainable solutions.

In every state, our roads, highways and bridges are falling apart.

One third of our major roads are now in poor or mediocre condition…

... and one out of every nine bridges has been deemed structurally deficient.

That means more potholes.

More traffic jams.

More accidents.

It also means that customers have a harder time driving to their local barber shop or pizzeria, which can cost those businesses sales.

It means that florists and plumbers have a harder time getting out to their customers, which can cost them business.

It means manufacturers have a harder time delivering their finished products to retailers and customers, which can cost them time and money.

And for nearly every company, it means more time that employees spend commuting and less time they spend actually running and growing the business.

(On second thought, this might be more appropriate.)

It all adds up to a weaker economy.

In fact, by 2030, the estimated cumulative cost of traffic congestion will reach $2.8 trillion in the United States, according to a recent study – which puts jobs at risk.

Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood summed up the situation by saying: “Our infrastructure is on life support right now.”

So, why isn't there enough money to repair our ailing transportation systems?

Well, more than half of the funding for repairing and replacing our roads, highways and bridges comes from what’s known as the federal Highway Trust Fund.

When you fill up your gas tank, you pay an 18.4 cents-per-gallon tax. Most of that money funnels directly into the Highway Trust Fund.

In that way, the gas tax is basically a user fee. The more you use the roads, the more you fill up your tank, and the more you fill up your tank, the more you pay to help keep the roads in good condition. Makes sense, right?

Here's the problem. Our user fee hasn't increased since 1993. That's a long time ago.

Keep in mind, 18.4 cents doesn't go as far today. It won’t buy nearly as much asphalt or as many construction hours at it did in 1993.

Couple that with the fact that today's cars are generally heavier (more wear and tear on the roads per mile driven)...

... yet more fuel efficient (less tax paid per mile driven) than they were in 1993...

… and it becomes clear why we’re running out of transportation funds.

Congress last year passed a short-term deal to temporarily replenish the Highway Trust Fund.

But it's abundantly clear that we need a more sustainable long-term solution.

So what's the solution?

Here's a simple idea: Raise the gas tax.

A modest, phased-in increase in the user fee would catch us up to how much we were paying per mile of road used back in 1993, when our roads were in better shape.

It would also ensure that there's funding for construction projects for years to come, rather than kicking the can down the road with more short-term fixes.

But that's not enough: Our country also needs more public-private collaboration to rebuild our transportation infrastructure.

And we need to remove some of the existing barriers that block private capital from being invested in infrastructure.

If we do that, we'll havebetter roads, highways and bridges.

Which would help us get from point A to point B more quickly and more safely.

That would mean a healthier economy.

And happier drivers.

About the authors

U.S. Chamber Staff

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