A year after urging the United States Congress to act to avoid a looming insolvency of the federal Highway Trust Fund, the Transportation Planning Board at its April 15 meeting called on the lawmaking body to substantially increase federal transportation funding and to fund priority needs like system maintenance and multimodal travel options.
The TPB's call took the form of a set of policy principles for Congress to consider as it works to extend or reauthorize MAP-21, the law authorizing federal spending on transportation in the Washington region and around the country. MAP-21 went into effect in 2012 and was extended last summer through May 31 of this year.
A significant increase in funding headlined the list of policy principles. In its formal resolution adopting the principles, the TPB said that the lack of adequate funding undermines economic growth in the region and hinders its global competitiveness. The resolution also highlighted the difficulty that state and local transportation agencies face in planning and implementing vital improvements to the transportation system without the predictability of long-term federal support.
In the policy principles it adopted, the TPB called on Congress to consider a full range of "reasonable and predictable" strategies for securing sustained, long-term funding, among them increasing the flat, per-gallon federal fuel tax. The tax hasn't been raised since the early 1990s, during which time it has as a result of inflation lost 40 percent or more of its purchasing power.
The principles also point to other approaches, like indexing fuel taxes and user fees to inflation, and less traditional solutions like road-use pricing, public/private partnerships, and infrastructure banks and bonding programs.
Last year, in a letter to Congress urging action to raise new revenue, the TPB pointed to the examples of Virginia and Maryland, which both took historic steps in 2013 to raise user fees and other taxes to pay for transportation. "Now it's time for the federal government to do its part," the letter said.
Related: TPB to Congress: Protect the Highway Trust Fund From Insolvency, Now and Into the Future
Beyond increased overall funding, the MAP-21 policy principles adopted by the TPB on April 15 also call for more funding for keeping the country's transportation system safe and in good working order, and on funding multimodal transportation improvements, especially public transit and pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, as communities seek to reduce dependency on driving and serve non-drivers.
At its meeting, the TPB voted to include a call for restoring the parity in federal tax breaks for drivers and transit users. Last year, Congress dropped the maximum allowable tax-free employer transit subsidy from $230 a month to $130. The monthly subsidy for parking is $250.
The TPB's MAP-21 policy principles also call for more streamlined federal project review processes and more funding to help states and metropolitan areas meet new federal performance-based planning and programming requirements.