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ARTBA calls for other highway user fees

CONGRESS must consider other highway user fees to augment the federal gasoline tax in order to finance America's growing transportation needs, according to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA).

ARTBA expects that federal excise taxes on gasoline and diesel fuels will remain the primary vehicle for financing transportation improvements for the rest of the decade.

However, a host of additional federal user fee options could generate critical revenues to meet the nation's surface transportation investment challenges, said William Buechner, ARTBA economics and research vice-president.

The options could include annual federal motor vehicle registration fees, federal sales taxes on cars and light trucks, and/or cargo taxes.

Other potential funding mechanisms at the federal level could include expanded use of tolling and perhaps toll-backed federal bonds for large-scale, high-cost regional and multi-state projects, he said.

Unlike the other user fee options, tolling and bonding do not lend themselves to a “one size fits all” model for financing the federal investment program, he said.

According to the Department of Transportation's Conditions and Performance report, there is currently a $20 billion gap between what is being invested by all levels of government and what is necessary just to maintain current highway and bridge conditions, ARTBA said.

“To close the investment gap and begin making meaningful transportation infrastructure improvements is going to take a strong national and political commitment,” said Buechner. “It will require a very significant increase in the level of financial support given to transportation programs by all levels of government. And it is going to require federal leadership.”

ARTBA proposed in 1999 that Congress examine how alternative motor fuels and/or motor vehicle use should be taxed at the federal level to ensure the revenue stream necessary to improve mobility in America.

The association supports provisions in the House and Senate TEA-21 transportation reauthorization bills now before Congress that would establish a national commission to develop financing options for highway and transit investments in the long term.

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