No easy funding fix for U.S. transportation woes -lawmaker

WASHINGTON Wed Feb 13, 2013 11:37am EST

WASHINGTON Feb 13 (Reuters) - The U.S. transportation system is in danger of falling apart, dragging down the economy with it, unless Congress can agree on a plan to pay for badly needed new projects, a senior Republican lawmaker said on Wednesday.

"If we don't deal with this issue at some point, as I said, we will reach a tipping point and the transportation system may not recover and we will fall behind the rest of the world," Bill Shuster, chairman of the House of Representatives Transportation Committee, said in a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The United States has already "gone from being one of the top three, four (or) five systems in the world to now we're 23 or 24, so we need to act," Shuster said.

In terms of future funding sources, "I don't rule anything out. Everything has to be on the table," he said.

A recent study from the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated the United States needs to spend $2.75 trillion to maintain and improve its infrastructure by 2020, or roughly two-thirds more than the $1.66 trillion in expected funding over that period.

A big chunk of those needs are for highway projects. Those traditionally been have been funded by the federal gasoline tax, which has been about 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993 and is now seen as an increasingly ineffective way of raising revenue because of rising auto fuel efficiency.

Shuster said he agreed that relying on the gasoline tax probably was not sustainable over the long-term, but it would be hard to shift in the short-term to other options.

Payment systems based on "vehicle miles traveled" are unpopular, particularly proposals to put transponders in cars to record and transmit the mileage data, he said.

Some state governors favor collecting more tolls on the interstate highway system, but that is hard to do when many people are used to driving on the "freeway," he said.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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