Local view: Every 'freeway' comes at a cost
The financial backbone of our federal highway system -- the Federal Highway Trust Fund -- is rapidly going broke. This is the money our nation, state, county, city and local businesses and motorists rely on to keep our nation's highways and bridg...
The financial backbone of our federal highway system -- the Federal Highway Trust Fund -- is rapidly going broke. This is the money our nation, state, county, city and local businesses and motorists rely on to keep our nation's highways and bridges functional and safe. The trust fund and its 20th-century based revenue stream can no longer support the demands of a 21st-century economy.
Only an act of Congress can save this beleaguered fund. And, fortunately for us in the Northland, U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar is working on a solution.
As Minnesotans, we've seen what can happen when transportation needs are neglected. In Duluth, decades of underfunding means drivers must navigate through mine fields of potholes instead of over well-maintained city streets. Statewide, we all felt the pain as one of our major highway bridges collapsed, killing 13 people. With no federal gas tax increase since 1993, we're dangerously increasing the odds that other places in America could suffer some of the same consequences.
A fully-funded Federal Highway Trust Fund is critical to our nation's future. It would mean quicker transportation, with safer highways moving us from point to point, while using less gasoline and emitting less carbon. It would mean businesses, from UPS to local hardware stores, spending less on transportation costs.
A recent Texas Transportation Institute study documents that Americans stuck in traffic are costing $78 billion a year in lost productivity.
A fully-funded Federal Highway Trust Fund would mean more jobs for Minnesotans. At a time when the U.S. has been
losing up to 600,000 jobs per month, new construction projects would put laid-off workers back to work, helping more Minnesota families make ends meet.
A fully-funded fund would mean paying for roads and bridges now, not deficit-spending our way to new roads and leaving bills for our children.
Since its inception in 1956, the U.S. Interstate System has been a wealth generator for this country, connecting workers with jobs, businesses with customers, and products with retailers. We are accustomed to the system, taking advantage of the interstates and highways to Minneapolis, Eau Claire, Bemidji, and beyond. We benefit daily from previous generations' foresight and investment in our transportation infrastructure.
Today, inadequate funding has brought the Federal Highway Trust Fund to the brink. Its main funding source is the federal gasoline tax of 18 cents a gallon. Over the past two years, Americans are consuming fewer gallons of gas, driving hybrid and more fuel-
efficient vehicles. The benefits of reduced fuel consumption contribute to the funding problem and result in fewer dollars for highway and bridge repairs. Less trust fund revenue means fewer improvements and fewer jobs.
There are many options the federal government could consider to resolve the Federal Highway Trust Fund issue. They include higher gas taxes, which aren't necessarily the best solution. Big problems require big-picture solutions.
This year, Congressman Oberstar proposed a multitude of potential solutions to shore up the failing Federal Highway Trust Fund. Some of his ideas were met with great enthusiasm. Others, like the
vehicle-mileage tax, were met with skepticism and criticism, including from the News Tribune ("Our view: Leave miles-traveled tax at the roadside,"
The important thing is that Congressman Oberstar continues searching for the right mix of bold, creative and innovative funding solutions, ones that will bring our transportation funding system into the
Hopefully, within months Congress will resolve the Federal Highway Trust Fund crisis. For those who have chosen to only criticize Congressman Oberstar's ideas, while offering no concrete solutions of their own, there's still time for meaningful input. Several thousand years ago, Aristotle must have had these kinds of people in mind when he stated, "Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing."
John Ongaro is director of inter-governmental relations for St. Louis County.