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The Bottom Line: A $37 Billion Highway Deficit

By: 
Bill Cramer

In a report this week, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) put a sobering number to a problem that IBTTA has been working hard to help solve.

In its 2015 Bottom Line Report, a joint publication with the American Public Transit Association, AASHTO calculated a $37 billion gap between the dollars available for surface transportation investment and the funds that are needed to maintain an aging highway network.

To meet current demand for highway improvements, governments would have to invest $120 billion per year over the next six years—before factoring in the trillion-dollar cost of rebuilding the interstate highway system. With only $83 billion currently available for highways and bridges, the annual deficit stands at $37 billion.

“The top priority for every state transportation department is to keep America’s surface transportation system operating safely and efficiently,” said AASHTO Executive Director Bud Wright. “The business community, trade unions, commercial truck drivers, and numerous associations including AASHTO and APTA support greater investment. The key is reaching consensus on Capitol Hill.”

Getting to Yes on Transportation Funding

That consensus was hard to find in 2014, a year that began with some hope of a long-term agreement to fund highway infrastructure. With only limited support for increasing the federal gas tax, the year’s highlight was the White House proposal to give states the flexibility to toll existing interstate highways to fund their reconstruction.

In the end, Congress agreed to a short-term patch that extended existing highway budgets until May 2015, setting the stage for another round of debate in 2015. When that debate gets under way, it’ll be useful to keep an eye on one of the specific observations in the AASHTO-APTA report.

“The states own the overwhelming share of the interstate system and the predominant share of the remainder of the national highway system, as well as major portions of the other federal-aid system roads,” the two organizations noted. “94% of the interstate is owned by states. That percentage is, in fact, larger, as much of the remainder is held by non-Highway Department state agencies such as toll road authorities.”

States and Toll Roads Take the Lead

In one paragraph, AASHTO points to the forces that could shift the focus of the highway funding debate. The states own the roads. Tolling authorities are a part of the solution. So how can federal decision-makers embrace a solution that is proven, practical, and sensitive to state and local transportation needs?

The AASHTO-APTA report is just the latest in a long list of reports that have made the case for addressing the highway funding deficit—and, increasingly, for a more flexible approach to funding. In 2014, IBTTA and many other players laid the groundwork for a solution. In 2015, let’s try to bring that solution home.

Click here for the latest on IBTTA’s Moving America Forward public awareness campaign.