Restructuring the Surface Transportation Program: A Dialogue Between Conservatives and Innovators

For the first time in 50 years, a serious dialogue has emerged about the future direction of the U.S. surface transportation program. This paper describes the factors triggering this reassessment and the trends that have influenced it. The realization that the surface transportation program has been drifting without any real sense of purpose or direction, the impending depletion of the Highway Trust Fund balance, the bridge collapse in Minnesota which dramatized the fragile condition of some transportation facilities, and growing highway congestion all have influenced this reassessment. Three emerging trends have influenced the public debate on the surface transportation program: a growing acceptance of highway tolling to supplement existing transpiration tax revenue; a willingness to use variable pricing to manage congestion; and greater public sector receptivity to partnering with the private sector in financing, constructing and operating transportation facilities. Although two congressionally chartered commissions have been charged with developing a plan for restructuring and financing the federal surface transportation program, the commission members are divided between "conservatives," who consider a raise in gas taxes as the principal means of dealing with the funding shortage and who favor maintaining a strong federal oversight of the program, and "innovators," who see tolling, equity capital, private road concessions and public-private partnerships as the keys to funding transportation. Both sides will have to compromise in order to reach an agreement on the future direction of surface transportation.


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  • Accession Number: 01099101
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS, ATRI
  • Created Date: May 1 2008 11:30PM