Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Delays to Freight and Passenger Traffic due to Transport Infrastructure Problems Unacceptable

Politicians Head in the Sand Tactics Over Gas Prices Need to be Addressed
Shipping News Feature

US – With the Highway Trust Fund budget, which is meant to ensure the free flow of freight and passenger traffic, extended until the end of July 2015, due to the two extra months grace created by a bill introduced by two Republicans, Bill Shuster, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Paul Ryan, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, the US needs to get a grip on the problem of the programmes multi-billion dollar shortfall that is apparently still to be resolved, much as we pointed out in a detailed article last month.

Shuster and Ryan would have preferred deferring the matter until the end of the year whilst attempting to reach a ‘bipartisan agreement’ but little in American politics is as tricky to resolve as something which may impinge on gas prices. Despite not sanctioning a rise in fuel costs, political suicide in the view of many, President Obama saw his proposals in February to rename the Highway Trust Fund as the Transportation Trust Fund with the facility to increase the Department of Transport’s ability to spend $94.5 billion as against the then current $71.3 billion, ridiculed and batted away by the Republicans.

It seems it is much easier to tell the truth when one is actually out of office. The much admired Ray LaHood, formerly the Transportation Secretary has made his views plain on the matter, saying in an interview with NPR News last month:

“The gas tax in America has not been raised for 20 years, so I don't know of anything that hadn't been raised in 20 years. And the reason that Congress can't pass a multi-year transportation bill is because they haven't been able to come to grips with the idea that they need to raise the gas tax.

“I like the idea of raising the gas tax 10 cents a gallon. We need a strong six-year transportation program, well-funded and if you raise the gas tax 10 cents a gallon and indexed it to the cost of living, you raise about a billion additional dollars a year that would be very helpful.”

As cars and trucks become more efficient and hybrid powered vehicles more popular, so the revenue raised from fuel taxes diminishes, this in the face of rising infrastructure repair and provision costs and mountains of works left undone. In the two weeks between May 21 and June 3 alone, the Federal Highway Administration made available $11 million in emergency relief funds for flood-damaged roads in four states.

Unless the US politicians ‘man up’ and face the fact that the status quo is costing lives and livelihoods through the neglect of vital infrastructure, by finding a method of funding for these essential projects, it seems the country is bound to face their continual Walter Mitty like behaviour, with continual short term extensions to the Fund’s budget as they hide from the economic reality that, every year, they spend more than they receive in tax revenue under the current system.

Photo: Bridge swept away by floods in Blanco County, Texas (courtesy US DoT)