Higher Costs For Freight Users

The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission released its findings, including a call to action.

One of the more striking recommendations was that the “current Federal surface transportation programs should not be 're-authorized' in their current form.”

The Commission stated it “believes that it takes too long and costs too much to deliver transportation projects, and that waste is due to delay in the form of administrative and planning costs, inflation, and lost opportunities for alternative use of the capital hinder us from achieving the very goals our communities set.”

Among the proposed alternative transportation funding sources are: increasing the fuel tax and existing truck taxes, levying a federal tax on all transit trips, dedicating a portion of customs duties for freight-related improvements, levying new freight fees to finance freight related improvements, improving financial assistance to the railroads to support capacity enhancement, deriving funding for intercity passenger rail service from either a ticket tax, highway user revenues, or federal general fund revenues.

The most publicized and debated recommendation was for the federal fuel tax rate to be raised by five cents to eight cents per gallon per year over the next five years and indexed to inflation after that.

Another recommendation would grant a federal investment tax credit to transportation facility owners for capital improvements.

Other recommendations included lifting the current federal ban against interstate tolling to fund only new infrastructure.

A minority opinion from Mary Peters, secretary of the Department of Transportation, included a view that fuel taxes are inefficient and won't provide a solution to the funding problems. Further, the minority said state and local authorities are best equipped to handle transportation system decisions, and it opposed a centralized decision-making process at the federal level. It also stated that placing limits on tolling and congestion pricing are the wrong approach.

Though James Oberstar(D-MN), House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman, praised the commission's work, the National Industrial Transportation League (NITL) reports the US Congress is divided in its view of the commission's conclusions. Among the most charged issues was the state of the Highway Trust Fund. To keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent, the commission recommended increasing one or more of the existing taxes that go into the fund, taking measures to reduce evasion of fuel and other highway user taxes, and, among other suggestions, crediting the highway account with the funds that had been provided for emergency purposes and shifting that burden to the general fund.

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