August 3, 2015

Just one day before the expiration deadline of July 31, the U.S. Senate and House approved a three-month extension of funding the U.S. Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which is the source of revenue for the interstate highway system and other federal-aid highway programs in the United States. The U.S. Senate also approved by a vote of 65-34, the DRIVE Act, a six-year $350 billion road, bridge and transit policy bill that provides three years of funding and increases current funding, but the House would only adopt a three-month extension, leaving the Senate little option but to agree to the short term extension to avoid the HTF deadline expiration.

The U.S. Senate describes the transportation bill as: An act to authorize funds for Federal-aid highways, highway safety programs, and transit programs, and for other purposes. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2013 America's Infrastructure Report Card on roads and public transit both received a grade of D and overall U.S. infrastructure receiving a grade of D+. The Highway Trust Fund which was created by the U.S. Congress and the Highway Revenue Act of 1956, was in danger of not being re-authorized by the U.S. government for additional funding.

The three-year surface transportation bill passed by the Senate also includes provision to the water infrastructure program originally authorized in 2014 Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA). Section 15003 of H.R. 22 removes the prohibition on using tax exempt bonds to fund projects under the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), a change which is supported by American Society of Civil Engineers. The WIFIA provides low-interest loan guarantees to major water infrastructure projects, however, the program only finances up to 49% of a project, and prohibits the use of tax exempt bonds from funding the remaining 51%.

According to the Transportation Research Board (TRB), the principal purpose of the HTF was to finance the construction of the Interstate highway system, and its creators' original intention was to terminate the fund when that effort was accomplished. However, the fund has since morphed into an ongoing method of financing a broad range of federal transportation programs and now comprises both a highway account and a mass transit account. Over the years, the structure of the taxes supporting the fund and the rules governing its expenditures and administration have changed, sometimes significantly.

Among the most significant changes were a series of increases to tax levels and transfers to the fund (major increases occurred in 1959, 1961, 1966, 1982, and 1997), the imposition of obligation limits in 1974, and the restoration of the user fee concept in 1998. The congressional authorizing acts that provided for these and other revisions to the fund's funding levels and administrative procedures from 1956 to 2003 are documented. The fund's history is a particularly topical subject because Congress continues to address extensions to the fund, the fund's supporting revenues, and the transportation programs it finances.

According to ASCE, the HTF is the national bank account for roads, bridges and transit that reimburses states for eligible projects completed. Inaction by the U.S. Congress has put the HTF in jeopardy. The U.S. government needs to act quickly to generate sustainable revenue for the HTF – an investment according to ASCE that is vital to the health of the U.S. economy. ASCE advocates that U.S. Congress fix the Highway Trust Fund by the July 31 deadline. To support this effort, ASCE and the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) produced a short commercial which has been airing in U.S. television markets.

The HTF, which pays for improvements and construction of roads, bridges, and transit systems, is funded by the U.S. federal gasoline tax, currently 18.4 cents a gallon. The tax has not been raised since 1993, and the revenues have not kept pace with system needs. While the price of other household goods such as food items and vehicles have nearly doubled in price since 1993, the U.S. transportation system is utilizing 1993 dollars.

>View How Your U.S. State Senators Voted on the Bill

>Help Fix the Highway Trust Fund: Urge congressional leaders now to fix the Highway Trust Fund

>Sign the Petition to Fix the Highway Trust Fund Now

>To Share the ASCE and ARTBA Message: Fix the Nation's Infrastructure