At this time of year, I often like to make a “wish list” for the in- dustry. Overall, I would like to
see the industry prosper, and while in
years past, some of my wishes have
been made with tongue planted firmly in
cheek, this year my wishes are more in
line with what I truly hope comes true.
On a recent “ 60 Minutes,” there was a
segment about the decrepit condition of
our nation’s bridges and highways. This
is a subject we have all watched for decades and fully understand. The unfortunate issue is that Congress has been
asleep at the switch, politically polarized
and apparently not seeing the real problem — nor does it seem to understand
what’s needed to rectify it.
Our bridges in the U.S. — and there
are more than 70,000 of them, according to the broadcast — are in terrible
shape. We cannot see the problems
driving over or under these very important parts of our highway and rail infrastructure, but rust is taking over, and
cement and asphalt are falling apart
on nearly all of it. It’s a wonder that we
have not had more accidents and destruction because of the neglect.
It’s up to Congress to put politics
aside and get legislation moving that will
not only put money toward the maintenance and upgrading of our infrastructure, but to make a systematic plan to
begin working on the bridges, highways
railways and airports to make them safe
and in good working condition.
The Highway Trust Fund has in the
past been directed by highway bills, usu-
ally in the hundreds of millions of dollars,
which established six-year working peri-
ods. Today, we see six- or eight-month
“band aid bills,” sometimes called “pot-
hole bills” that hardly cover the cost of
pothole mix and tar to cover cracks and
holes in the roads. The most recent bill
passed by Congress and approved by
the administration in August of this year
called for $10.8 billion in funding, good
until May 2015 and offering little or no di-
rection. Is this the best we can do?
Gas taxes to help maintain infrastructure and highways have been in effect
for about 80 years. The first gasoline
tax of one cent per gallon went into law
June 1932. That tax has progressively
increased over the years so that it finally
got to three cents per gallon in July 1956
and four cents per gallon October 1959.
It has bounced around since then. In
October 1993, Congress set the tax at
18. 4 cents per gallon, the current price.
The current tax on diesel fuel was also set
at 24. 4 cents per gallon at the same time.
Meanwhile, inflation has increased
64% since 1993, which should put the
gas tax with inflation at about 30 cents
per gallon on a national basis. Today’s
motorists, therefore, are paying about
half per mile what they paid in 1993.
That’s why the system is broken.
In June 2014, a bipartisan highway
bill amendment implementing a six-cent
gas tax increase in 2014 with another
change of six cents in 2015 was debated
by the House of Representatives. This
amendment called for indexing the gas
tax to inflation, ensuring the fact that the
Highway Trust Fund would be viable for
many years, which is not the case with
the current 21-year-old bill. The amendment died in the House before being sent
to the Senate because of concerns over
raising taxes in an election year.
A new longer-term highway bill would
create jobs, help machinery demand
grow and make our roads, bridges
and rails safer and more efficient. If we
spend $40 to $50 billion a year for na-
tionwide transportation maintenance,
then we need to find ways to generate
that revenue and manage it properly.
Are there other or better ways this
could be accomplished in view of the
fact that highways are used by more and
more people, some with electric cars
and hybrids? Fuel efficiency is a factor — better fuel economy means less
gas tax revenue — and so is the politics
that keeps throwing anti-tax arguments.
Gasoline and diesel vehicles will be here
for a long time, and certainly even long
after electric vehicles become a significant part of the motor vehicle scene.
Reforming the gas tax and getting our
transportation system running again will
have a positive impact. We need efficient transportation systems as they are
the lifeline in our national structure.
I want to see funds flowing again for
highways and new machines to do the
work. It is time for a longer-term plan
(perhaps four, five or six years in duration like previous highway bills), and
one that won’t go bust the first year
from lack of money. In two years, the
system should be working much better
and road and bridgework might start to
come back to the “normal” we once had.
I would be willing to bet that roughly 85% of the public is ready for such
changes. None of us want higher gas
prices, but with fuel prices dropping the
way they are, there is no better time to
move forward. People want improvements to our nation’s roads and bridges
— most of us drive cars and are tired
of having the tires and shocks ruined
from bad roads. We are also tired of a
rundown and aged air traffic control system and our metro systems that are antiquated. If someone has a better idea to
fix all of this, step forward.
Come on, Santa. All I want for Christmas is a real road bill. dp
A Big Wish For 2015
CHARLES YENGST www.yengstassociates.com — email@example.com
CHARLES R. YENGST IS