A growing number of states are taking action during their legislative sessions to increase investment in transportation. This trend is in vogue for several reasons.
First, many states that have taken action have done so after years of kicking the can down the road. For example, Iowa’s 10-cent increase is the first boost since 1989. In that time, the cost of most other goods has nearly doubled. Yet, Iowa was trying to fund 2015 roads and bridges on 1989 dollars. That underinvestment was costing the state’s economy in other ways, as a recent assessment by TRIP demonstrated. Iowa’s roads and bridges are costing each Iowan $2 billion in additional vehicle operating costs, lost time and fuel due to traffic congestion, and financial costs from traffic accidents. Thanks to the increased revenues, the state will begin addressing many of its needs.
Second, bipartisan action reflects the increasing understanding that deferring maintenance in the face of a funding deficit hurts economic competitiveness. Utah, another state that passed gas tax increase legislation this session, is expected to have huge population growth in the coming decades. To meet future needs, as well as address a projected funding shortfall, that state needed to increase its investment. Investing in roads and bridges has historically been a place of agreement from both sides of the aisle, and that trend continues this year.
Another reason we have seen action is that people are sick of potholes and sitting in traffic and are becoming increasingly vocal about their desire to have safe, well-maintained roads and bridges. In the press release South Dakota Gov. Daugaard issued after signing his state’s gas tax increase into law, he emphasized that maintaining roads and bridges is one of the fundamental functions of government. The more lawmakers hear from constituents on the need for better roads and bridges and greater access to transit, the more likely they are to make it a legislative priority.
Several other states are poised to take action this year that would better fund transportation. In legislative action, Idaho, Georgia and Washington are all considering and compromising on bills that would address each respective state’s needs. Also on the horizon are Minnesota, North Carolina and Nebraska. In Michigan, voters will head to the polls on May 5th to decide on a ballot measure that would increase funding for the Great Lakes state’s transportation network—a measure endorsed by many influential groups, the Governor, and the Detroit Free Press.
All of this action at the state level, however, cannot take the place of the federal government’s essential role in transportation investment. To continue the momentum of this year’s state action—along with the trend of the past few years—the U.S. Congress needs to find a long-term, sustainable solution to fix the Highway Trust Fund. If they fail to act, our nation’s economic competitiveness is in jeopardy and states will be stuck with a much larger tab, or an even longer backlog of projects.