FHWA pushes for more public-private toll roads

Link to article here. Try to follow this logic…driving is down due to high gas prices, therefore road maintenance costs will also drop, and so will congestion & gridlock, yet the FHWA and the Bush Administration call for more risky leveraged debt to prop up an unsustainable toll road scheme that requires motorists to ante up a minimum of 20 times more money than gas taxes? What’s broken is our government run by politicians and bureaucrats who continue to indebt generations for today’s private profiteering. Yet again, we see a government agency lobbying on the taxpayers’ dime.

FHWA director: U.S. transportation system broken
Tom Greenwood / The Detroit News
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
SOUTHFIELD — James Ray, Acting Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, called on Congress to engage in serious dialogue on maintaining and improving the interstate highway system.

“Without a doubt, our federal approach to transportation is broken,” said Ray, who spoke at a press conference at the Eaton Corp. Tuesday morning.

“And no amount of tweaking, adjusting or adding new layers on top will make things better.”

Ray said it was paramount that new forms of revenue be considered to supplement the current gas tax, which he described as “unpredictable and unsustainable.”

According to the agency, gas tax revenues have declined as American motorists have dramatically cut back on driving due to a sagging economy coupled with record high gasoline prices and increased vehicle fuel efficiency. Ray noted that increased production of hybrid vehicles was a double edged sword in that they diminished the country’s reliance on oil, but at the same time reduced tax revenue at the gas pump.

Ray said the Bush administration was in favor of a “more progressive direct user fee” similar to a system that is currently being tested in Oregon. Under that pilot program, cars were equipped with on board mileage counting equipment that was read by pumps equipped with mileage reader devices.

When refueling, the mile counters communicated with the mileage readers at the pumps, which then automatically deducted the standard gas tax and substituted a user fee, instead.

Ray said the Bush administration was offering a number of ways to overhaul the U.S. transportation system, including:

• Streamlining the federal review process for new transportation projects, which takes 13 years to design and build new highway and transit projects.

• Consider more direct pricing options like tolls based on miles driven instead of a flat gas tax paid at the pump.

• Develop a Metropolitan Innovation Fund that would reward cities for creative solutions to transportation problems.

• Cut red tape by reducing over 100 federal transportation programs down to eight comprehensive programs that would focus on transportation problems and solutions.

• Allow states and cities to have a greater say in addressing their most needed transit and highway priorities.

• Encourage greater participation by private companies in public roadways by allowing them to lease federal highways and maintain them through tolls.

• Offer economic incentives to motorists not to drive during peak travel periods.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, drivers traveled nearly 10 billion fewer miles in May 2008 than at the same time period in 2007. Additionally, for the first five months of 2008, U.S. motorists drove nearly 30 billion fewer miles than in 2007, which will result in a nearly $4 billion shortfall in gas revenues for 2009.

Ray said the Bush administration was not in favor of raising the federal gas tax, which currently stands at 18.4 cents per gallon.

“We’re not looking at raising the federal gas tax,” Ray said.

“The fact is that it’s dying … and relying on a gas tax will not work. We need something which is more agile and responsive than the current gas tax.”