House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster’s new infrastructure plan shows that Congress is starting to get serious about addressing our nation’s crumbling infrastructure and the Highway Trust Fund’s (HTF’s) pending insolvency.
The proposal, a “discussion draft” which Shuster recently released to reignite discussions around an infrastructure bill, provides options for strengthening the HTF, removing barriers to private investment in infrastructure and reforming the permitting process. It also takes an important step towards requiring all transportation system users to pay for the system they benefit from.
“The proposal lays out a simple principle: If you are using the system in some manner, then you should help pay for it. Capturing all users of the system is a fair requirement which will benefit everyone,” Shuster says.
Heavy trucks, weighing up to 80,000 pounds, cause significant amounts of damage to roads and highways. These trucks are estimated to only be paying for 80% of the damage they cause to infrastructure, leaving taxpayers with billions of dollars in damage. The proposal would replace HTF user fees with a per-mile user fee, helping to ensure these heavy trucks pay their fair share of the damage they cause to the nation’s infrastructure.
In contrast, the nation’s freight rail system is entirely privately funded. In fact, freight railroads spend more than 40 cents out of every revenue dollar on their 140,000-mile rail network, six times more than the average U.S. manufacturer.
“Private enterprises should cover their costs to do business, including moving freight over roads, bridges and highways also used by the traveling public. The evidence is clear: Big trucks, which play an invaluable role to U.S. commerce and are also a major customer of the rail industry, simply do not account for the costs associated with their infrastructure use,” Ed Hamberger, President of the Association of American Railroads, recently said.
By comparing the state of our nation’s roads, bridges and highways with that of our rail infrastructure, the benefits of a user-pay system become clear. While the American Society of Civil Engineers gave U.S. roads a “D” grade in its recent infrastructure report card, rail received ASCE’s highest grade.
Those grades caused Bruce H. Bird, the Macon County Engineer in Decatur, Illinois, to hold up freight rail and it’s private investment as an example of a top infrastructure system in a guest column for the Decatur Herald Review.
“If you invest in your system, you will receive a return on your investment. There is a successful model to follow to return our roads and bridges to good condition,” Bird wrote. “Since 1981, railroads have operated under a user-pay system that has churned over $660 billion of private capital back into their private networks.”