America’s roads are falling apart, mostly because there is not enough funding for transportation initiatives, according to an article from Bloomberg News. The underinvestment contributed to 33,561 highway deaths in 2012, Bloomberg claims. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that $170 billion needs to be spent annually to improve the roadways in the country, but in Texas, alone, there is a $4 billion annual shortfall.
Bloomberg points to the oil boom and increased use of roads in West Texas and lowering tax revenue, as both cars and trucks have become more fuel efficient and can stretch tanks of gas further, as reasons for poor roads and increasing fatalities. The FHA’s $170 billion a year estimate is considered conservative in highway construction circles for what could be needed to improve performance and conditions on US roadways. The agency estimates that each $1 billion in federal highway and transit investment would support 13,000 jobs for a year.
Congress has yet to come up with a long-term highway funding solution and the Highway Trust Fund is currently operating under a stopgap solution that will run out in May. The Bloomberg article focuses mainly on the problems in Texas with frozen tax rates and a booming oil and gas industry causing strain on aging small-town roads.
A constitutional amendment on the November ballot there would allow an estimated $1.7 billion portion of annual oil-and-gas tax revenue to be allocated for highway work instead of going to a state rainy day fund. Even if that measure passes, Texas would be about $4 billion a year short of what’s needed just to keep the system performing at current levels
The argument in Washington will likely continue to focus on the question of whether we need a Highway Trust Fund at all. Republicans favor block grants to the states while democrats prefer the current system. What if Texas’ solution is actually better? Charging oil and gas companies, the main users causing wear and tear on the roads, would put the responsibility for upkeep on the industry causing the deterioration. It would certainly be more fair than raising gas taxes on every citizen. Shifting the onus to heavy users of roads from everyone who buys gasoline could be the long-term solution our roads and bridges need.