Those who know me realize raising taxes is not something I would be expected to advocate BUT there are exceptions. I have spent a good deal of my career with firms that supplied materials and services to the public construction industry. I have seen first-hand how the uncertainty of funding can create a feast or famine mentality in the industry.
Our federal roads and bridges are maintained through a fuel tax. The Federal Highway Trust Fund receives 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline and 24.4 cents for every gallon of diesel fuel purchased for on road use. With the increased fuel efficiency of vehicles, the tax revenue has not kept pace with the need nor the cost of repairs. It is unfortunate but these taxes will need to rise if we are to continue to have safe roads and bridges.
Most of the federal highways were built in the 50’s and 60’s and are aging. This is particularly true of bridges. In the past year, Ohio has lost a couple of major bridges, one in Cincinnati fell onto I-75 and another was struck by a semi near Columbus. In the second incident, the concrete fell onto I-70 and the resulting fire melted the reinforcing steel. Unfortunately, ODOT has been lowering its spending on the highways because of budget constraints and a lack of federal highway funds. The state has also been struggling with its partners in Kentucky to figure out how to replace the Brent Spence bridge, the main artery from Kentucky to Ohio on I-75.
In many metropolitan areas, the roadways are not adequate to handle the traffic flow, particularly at peak periods. Near Los Angeles, it is not unusual for traffic on federal highways to creep along at surface street speed because the highways are clogged with bumper to bumper traffic. This pattern increases the emissions from vehicles adding to what can already be stagnant air.
Funding for the Federal Highway Trust Fund has been patched for a number of years and needs to be addressed by the Administration and Congress. And now is the time to do it. If sanctions are lifted on Iran, that country will push large volumes of oil into the market depressing prices globally. OPEC will not be willing to offset the volume by taking drastic cuts to prop of the prices received by Iran.
As gas prices fall, our government should use the drop to increase the highway fuel taxes so that the federal Highway Trust Fund can be placed on solid footing.
Our citizens deserve safe and efficient bridges and highways. This projected downward spike in fuel prices is the best time to permanently fix the funding structure for the federal highway system.
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