The Highway Trust Fund, the federal government’s primary source for financing highway, bridge and transit projects, took in $3 billion fewer in Fiscal Year 2008 as Americans drove 90 billion miles less over 11 months of the same fiscal year, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters announced Wednesday. The trend underscores the need to find a new way to finance transportation projects in America, she added.
“Our current approach has us encouraging Americans to change their driving habits and burn less fuel while secretly hoping they drive more so we can finance new bridges, repair interstates and expand transit systems,” said Secretary Peters. “We need a new approach that compliments, instead of contradicts, our energy policies and infrastructure needs.”
Peters noted that Americans drove 4.4 percent less, or 10.7 billion fewer vehicle miles traveled (VMT), in September 2008 than September 2007, the eleventh-straight month of declining driving. The trend is most evident in rural interstate travel, which fell by 8 percent that month, while urban interstate travel declined by 3.9 percent.
As a result of the continued decline in VMT, the Highway Trust Fund, which is primarily funded through federal gas tax receipts, collected $31 billion in revenue between October 2007 and September 2008 – $3 billion less than it collected the previous year, while federal transportation spending increased by $2 billion.
Peters also noted that, if VMT continues to decline, the Highway Trust Fund may experience another shortfall sooner than expected. For this reason, she again urged Congress to fundamentally change the nation’s approach to financing and managing transportation systems.
In addition to reversing the tremendous growth in wasteful spending, Peters also urged Congress to act on the Administration’s surface transportation reform proposal, “Refocus, Reform, Renew,” which would give state and local officials new sources of revenue and new flexibility to finance transportation projects that will improve commutes.