Bipartisan Group Urges Overhaul of U.S. Transport Policy

Bipartisan Group Urges Overhaul of U.S. Transport Policy

With a warning that the current U.S. transportation policy structure is putting the nation's economic health at risk, the Bipartisan Policy Center and specialists who served on a major industry commission urged the president and Congress to make changes.

The Washington-based BPC said its National Transportation Policy Project along with former members of the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission want government leaders to raise new revenue to invest in targeted infrastructure needs.

The members include former Republican and Democratic Senate and House members, mayors, business and civic leaders, and transportation industry officials and experts.

Their outline for policy changes says federal surface transport programs "should be fundamentally reformed," by defining national needs and then using spending to improve core assets and using grants as incentive for states to build strategic network plans.

That call echoes what the Obama administration earlier suggested in its own draft strategic plan, and what the president's deficit panel suggested last week. But it would amount to a historic shift in Washington and in state governments. Congress has long allocated federal Highway Trust Fund receipts to states, which have broad discretion in how they spend the money.

The group also flatly said a new national policy must recognize that "additional investment in the transportation system by all levels of government and the private sector is required."

That means hiking federal fuel taxes, transitioning to a tax on vehicle miles traveled and allowing more tolling by states. "Today our system is under-priced, which contributes to less efficient use, increased physical deterioration, capacity shortages and congestion," the group said.

However, while alternative financing measures or partnerships with private investors can help, the policy specialists said such efforts "are not substitutes for actual revenues."

-- Contact John D. Boyd at jboyd@joc.com.