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Highway Trust is Going Bust

September 8, 2008
Weekly Columns

Every year Americans travel over three trillion miles on the nation's roads.  All of that traveling not only leads to wear and tear on our vehicles it also greatly affects the quality of our highways and bridges.  Unfortunately, one of the institutions created to fund repairs and maintenance of the Interstate Highway System, the Highway Trust Fund, is gravely underfunded.  With our streets getting more congested and our interstates deteriorating, projections that the fund will run out of money in fiscal year 2009 are even more disturbing.  Congress must work towards finding solutions to replenish the fund before that clock runs out.

The Highway Trust Fund was created in 1956 to ensure that reliable funding is available to help build and maintain America's federal highways.  Its primary source of money is the federal fuel tax, a tax paid at the pump by consumers.  But with rising costs of construction materials such as asphalt, steel, and concrete, an ever-lengthening list of critical road improvements, and regular misappropriations of transportation funding by Congress, the Highway Trust Fund has suffered major dips in its account balance.  In short, the impending bust of the Highway Trust Fund should come as no surprise.

In the two years since Speaker Pelosi has taken over Congress, an impressive number of post-offices have been renamed.  But that is not what I would consider legislative success.  While the liberal leadership has been busy answering to radical environmental groups, the American people's real requests continue to fall on deaf ears.  And if the Speaker's record on energy reform wasn't abysmal enough, we can now add impending transportation bankruptcy to her record.  And while anyone would acknowledge that there is no quick-fix to ensuring the safety of our roads and bridges, Americans deserve better than looking back on the death of Highway Trust Fund as the legacy of the 110th Congress.

A transportation solution for our country is certainly as complex as its problems.  For the last two years expensive diversions have squeezed too many dollars from critical highway and bridge repair programs.  Simply giving more money to transportation projects is not enough.  We need a sensible policy response that refocuses the transportation spending paradigm, putting funding towards our most critical transportation projects.  We also need to pass smart legislation that emphasizes the importance of regular road maintenance and strengthens our commitment to innovative infrastructure research.  This is just a small snapshot of what Congress needs to take into account when working towards a remedy to our transportation woes.

America cannot have its infrastructure undermined by the loss of the Highway Trust Fund.  I am prepared to work with my colleagues to make sure that Congress takes the appropriate steps to develop legislation that provides for revitalization and modernization of our country's highways and bridges.  After all, Americans are working hard to make ends meet to pay for the high costs of gasoline.  They deserve leadership that recognizes their sacrifice and works to be good stewards of their tax dollars and their trust.