During Infrastructure Week 2018, over 100 events took place across America to highlight the importance of infrastructure investment in our country. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) held one event in the form of a webinar that discussed current trends and future plans for federal, state and local investment in surface transportation.
Jim Tymon with AASHTO spoke during the webinar on where our current federal dollars are being spent and the hopes for the future.
“When looking at the current investment levels here in transportation in 2018, the Federal Highway Program is spending $45B a year from that program and $12B a year in federal transit programs,” Tymon says. “But these federal programs actually represent less than 20% of what is invested in roads, bridges and transit projects across the country. The bulk of the investment is provided by state and local governments.”
About 35 states have increased revenue for transportation over the last five or six years and even more localities have taken on that charge as well. “We’re currently spending about $15B a year more from the highway trust fund then we are bringing in in revenue,” Tymon says.
This means we’re approaching a Highway Trust Fund (HTF) crisis. In fact, new federal data shows that the HTF is due to become insolvent by the year 2021.
In 2020, the federal highway and transit programs are scheduled to expire and are up for reauthorization. To maintain the current highway spending levels beyond 2020, Congress will have to find an additional $93B to write a five-year bill and $115B for a six year surface transportation bill.
Since the Trump Administration started to push for ambitious standing in infrastructure, much has been said about how challenging it will be to pay for it. However when it comes to our highways, Weifeng Zhong with the American Enterprise Institute says tolls are one way Trump’s plan will actually work and not involve federal dollars.
“The President’s proposal to lift the long standing highway restrictions on interstate highway tolls makes economic sense,” Zhong says. “With the ban lifted, if states find it appropriate, they could impose tolls on interstate highways and use the new revenue to repair their failing roads.”
When it comes to our highways, Weifeng Zhong with the American Enterprise Institute says tolls are one way Trump’s plan will actually work and not involve federal dollars.
“The President’s proposal to lift the long standing highway restrictions on interstate highway tolls makes economic sense,” Zhong says.
Zhong says this is a sound argument for fixing America’s failing roads for two reasons;
One: The economics of road user charges.
“Economists have had a broad consensus for years that user charges are an efficient way to fund the investment and maintenance of infrastructure,” Zhong says. “When a piece of infrastructure is used but not paid for by those who use it, there will be problems.”
Two: The psychology behind them.
“Tolls are anything but popular,” Zhong says. “But findings have shown that people’s objections to paying tolls are temporary. Once the tolls are implemented, people come around and are in favor of them.”
Zhong says the shift in attitude can be explained by cognitive dissonance.
“People suffer a psychological burden when their behavior and their attitudes are inconsistent,” he says. “If you have to drive on a toll road, and you don’t like paying tolls, you will suffer a psychological burden. Reducing this psychological discomfort requires modifying your behavior or your attitude. Often times, a change of heart is easier to do.”
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