US Transportation Sec'y urges change in highway financing

Mary Peters again urged Congress to change the way the US finances its transportation infrastructure as the nation's highway trust fund revenue fell by $3bn in the lastest fiscal year and Americans drove 90 billion fewer miles.

The US highway trust fund fell $3 billion in fiscal year 2008 as Americans drove nearly 90 billion fewer miles in 11 months of this year compared to last year, prompting the US Transportation Secretary Mary Peters to urge Congress to find new funding methods for the nation's highways.

US highways: fewer
riders, fewer dollars

Peters asked Congress to “to fundamentally change the nation’s approach to financing and managing transportation systems”, according to a statement from the Department of Transportation.

Peters' statement could bring public private partnerships into greater focus as Congress debates the upcoming highway trust fund re-authorization bill, possibly as early as next year.

The trust fund is the main way that the US finances its highway transportation system. Two-thirds of its revenues come from a flat tax of 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline sold in the US.The remainder of the fund comes from a similar tax on diesel fuel and other income.  The fund's revenues decline proportionately when Americans drive less.

Peters said Americans drove 4.4 percent less – or 10.7 billion fewer vehicles miles traveled – in September 2008 than in September 2007, the 11th straight month of declines in miles traveled.

As a result of these decreases, which came amid steadily increasing oil prices that topped out at more than $147 per barrel in mid-July, the trust fund collected $31 billion of revenue between October 2007 and September 2008 – $3 billion less than in the previous year, while federal transportation spending increased by $2 billion.

In September, President Bush signed a bill that granted the fund an emergency infusion of $8 billion in order to keep it solvent through September of next year. Without the emergency measure, the fund would have run out of cash this year.