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Gas Tax: Building a Sustainable Future

UPDATE 6/18/2014: Today, Senators Corker (R-TN) and Murphy (D-CT) unveiled a bi-partisan agreement to raise the gas tax.  

The Highway Trust Fund (HTF)  is set to go bankrupt in mid to late August and Congress must find a solution over the next few weeks or the federal government will have to slow or stop payments to states on transportation projects. This could cost significant job loss during the high construction season, as well as a delay on much needed transportation improvments.  HTF is primarily funded by fuel tax on gas and diesel tax.

Congress has not raised the gas tax since 1993, and the tax was never indexed to inflation. As a result the purchasing power of the HTF is approximately 63% of what it was in 1993 and continues to decline.  

In announcing their plan to raise the gas tax 6 cents a gallon in each of the next two years, and indexing the tax to inflation, tey would offset the new tax by extending short term tax relief measures, Senator Corker stated

“Congress should be embarrassed that it has played chicken with the Highway Trust Fund and allowed it to become one of the largest budgeting failures in the federal government. If Americans feel that having modern roads and bridges is important then Congress should have the courage to pay for it.”

Senator Murphy acknowledged that Congress has been slow to find solutions, for fear of political reprisal.

“I know raising the gas tax isn’t an easy choice, but we’re not elected to make easy decisions – we’re elected to make the hard ones. This modest increase will pay dividends in the long run and I encourage my colleagues to get behind this bipartisan proposal.”


The League was honored to once again host Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) at the 2014 National Bike Summit, where he spoke about a very important piece of new legislation under consideration in the House.

The League has endorsed that bill, HR 3636: Update, Promote, and Develop America’s Transportation Essentials Act of 2013, which increases the gas tax and indexes it for inflation for the years 2015 through 2024. The bill also expresses the sense of Congress that by 2025, the gas tax should be repealed and replaced with a more sustainable, stable funding source for transportation funding. 

We’ve endorsed Blumenauer’s bill because we believe the immediate chronic shortfall in transportation funding is detrimental for two critical reasons. 

One, the massive investment we’ve made over the past 50 years in a national transportation system that is increasingly multi-modal is threatened by the lack of funding to maintain the infrastructure we’ve already got. We have built a highway and transit system that connects communities and gives people unparalleled freedom to travel — and that system is threatened if we allow it to deteriorate. As bicyclists, we are keenly aware of the impact of crumbling, potholed roads.

The safety and convenience of all road users is compromised if we are unable to replace aging signals and upgrade roads to reflect current vehicle technology and performance capabilities. The effectiveness of transit systems is compromised if aging rolling stock, track and signal systems are allowed to decay — and if people are deterred from using transit everyone loses with the added congestion and frustration that brings to our roads. 

Two, if there isn’t even enough funding to maintain our existing systems and honor commitments already made to transportation projects, what hope is there of evolving that system with an investment program that ensures we have a transportation system fit for the needs of the 21st century and beyond? Changing demographics; a rapidly growing population (especially in our metropolitan areas); ongoing concerns about congestion, air quality, climate change and obesity; and a continuing death toll of more than 33,000 people annually on our roads all argue for a new investment strategy to maximize the efficiency and safety of our transportation infrastructure.

People want real choices in how they travel, particularly in cities, and the current highway infrastructure has all its eggs in the (unsustainable) basket of single occupancy car travel. This may have been the right policy in 1950, but it isn’t the right approach for 2050. 

Without consistent and increased funding we can’t even begin to have a conversation about the future of transportation infrastructure investments, and long term sustainable funding. Increasing and indexing to inflation the current Federal gasoline tax is a clean, simple, and proven way to preserve the existing system, protect the considerable investment we’ve made in it, and have a meaningful conversation about the future or transportation in this country.

Cars and trucks will remain the dominant modes of travel — but they cannot be the only choices, especially in our cities. 

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