Golden opportunity or fool’s gold?

| July 05, 2007

That’s especially important given the length of some leases, such as 75 years for the Indiana Toll Road. That agreement states that if the toll road “isn’t operated correctly, they keep the $3.8 billion and get the road back,” Norment says.

Indiana owner-operator Randy Nace stands by his efforts to stop the Indiana Toll Road deal, pointing out that while New Jersey and Pennsylvania are considering P3s, they “didn’t just jump on the bandwagon.” “We may have lost it here in Indiana,” he says, “but we’ve had an impact on other states.”

With the Federal Highway Trust Fund on the brink of bankruptcy, where do opponents of public-private partnerships think money for road maintenance and new roads should come from? A recent report produced on behalf of the American Trucking Associations by the American Transportation Research Institute outlined some recommendations:

Increase the federal fuel tax. A 20-cent per gallon tax increase on gasoline and diesel would generate $35.1 billion in one year.

Eliminate earmarks. Money collected from fuel and vehicle taxes too often, gets diverted at the state level to projects that do little to improve transportation for most motorists. Had such projects been cut from the most recent highway bill, more than $24 billion would have been available for highway projects, according to the nonpartisan watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Reduce fuel tax evasion. Stemming the flow of fuel tax revenue lost annually to bootlegging, false refund claims and the sale of blended fuel could add from $1 billion to $9 billion to the coffers.

Eliminate fuel tax exemptions. Government fleets consume more than 3 billion gallons of fuel annually, yet are exempt from fuel taxes. Taxing these vehicles would yield $907 million or more each year.

Decrease diversions. Interest generated annually by the billions of dollars in the federal Highway Trust Fund is sent to the general fund instead of to transportation. Recapturing that interest could free up about $2 billion annually for roads. Another $70 million per year is diverted to an Environmental Protection Agency program to clean up leaking underground fuel storage tanks.

Both sides of the privatization debate agree on two points: Highways are overcrowded in many areas and badly in need of repair. And our current system for funding road building and maintenance needs a serious overhaul.

Congestion sucks $168 billion per year out of the U.S. economy. The worst bottlenecks delayed trucks for 243 million hours in 2004, costing trucking nearly $8 billion, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Getting the money needed to address the problem is a challenge. Annual Highway Trust Fund revenue will fall $23 billion short of maintaining highway and transit systems and $48 billion short of improving them, according to a 2005 report from the National Chamber Foundation of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The most recent highway act guarantees $286 billion in federal funding for highway and transit capital improvements through 2009. Yet the chamber estimates that revenue coming into the Highway Trust Fund during this period will total only about $231 billion. If nothing changes, the fund will go bankrupt in 2008.

Meanwhile, important trucking routes such as I-75 and I-5 in California, I-15 in California and Utah and I-70 across the country need new capacity.

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