WASHINGTON Feb 13 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
"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
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)