ATM Coalition Fact/Fiction on the Highway Trust Fund

FICTION: There’s no Highway Trust Fund (HTF) or transportation infrastructure crisis on the horizon; it’s ok for Congress to continue kicking the can down the road by passing short-term legislation that re-authorizes the HTF one or two years at a time.

FACT: America can’t afford NOT to fix the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) or the transportation infrastructure it funds for two overriding reasons: the federal highway and transit programs are integral to the nation’s economic growth and the longer Congress takes to fix the problem, the more consumers and businesses pay to fix vehicles that experience damage because of deteriorating infrastructure. The savings Americans are enjoying because of low gas prices are being wiped away because of repairs needed from potholes and accidents from poor road conditions. The average person is currently paying $8 a month in federal fuel user fee. For this amount they have access to the nation’s Interstates, urban and rural highways, — literally hundreds of thousands of miles – and improved mass transit services. Meanwhile, per household, the cost of deficient surface transportation is $1,060 per year, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. A 10 to 15 cent per gallon increase would mean an additional $4 to $6 dollars a month. This is a reasonable amount for users of the federal highway network to pay to maintain and progress this network so it is more efficient, reliable and safe.


FICTION: Mass transit is not essential to the federal transportation program; the federal government is forcing transit programs onto states.

FACT: Transit began receiving highway funding in 1982 under Ronald Reagan, when it became clear that congestion could not be addressed solely though roads—members of Congress from both parties determined transit was an essential piece of the solution; it is obviously a necessary form of transportation to help ease road congestion. The bi-partisan MAP-21 gave a significant amount of discretion to state and local governments to decide into which modes of transportation and specific projects they would like to invest money they receive through the HTF. If state and local governments decided to invest funds provided into mass transit, they did so because they determined those were the projects that would improve the economy, livability, efficiency or safety in their communities.


FICTION: Transportation infrastructure projects are too expensive and the HTF won’t really go broke if spending habits are changed.

FACT: The costs of highway and transit projects have escalated over the past two decades because everything is more expensive: the real purchasing power of 18.4 cents has slipped because of inflation and increases in wages and materials since 1993. Since the federal fuel user fee was last raised 20 years ago, the purchasing power of the dollar has declined substantially. The inflationary bite means that the current 18.4 cents per-gallon user fee is effectively worth about 11.5 cents today compared to when it was last increased in 1993. A September 2012 WSJ article noted, “the tax buys about half the concrete, steel and other materials it did 20 years ago.


FICTION: The HTF won’t really go broke.

FACT: It’s well established that the HTF will become insolvent in 2015 if legislation re-authorizing MAP-21 is not passed and signed into law, meaning if Congress does not act, the federal government will slow or stop sending checks to state DOTs. The economic consequences of not being able to pay contractors and employees will send shockwaves throughout our economy. Already, seven states have announced they are delaying or canceling projects valued at $1.63 billion; a total of 19 states have expressed concerns about the feasibility of future transportation projects because of lack of Congressional action on transportation reauthorization. The economic benefits of building infrastructure projects are clear:  for every $1 of federal highway investment approximately $1.80 to $2.00 in additional growth in goods and services follows. It is irresponsible for Congress – just because of the threats of extremists that seats will roll – not to act to prevent the negative economic impact – on communities across America and the economy as a whole – of inaction.