After being cooped up inside for what was in some parts of the country the coldest and snowiest winter on record, it appears based upon latest data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) that Americans traveled on our roadways in force this spring and early summer. Vehicle miles traveled (VMT), a common measure of roadway use, hit its highest level in six years between July 2013 and June 2014. The first half of 2014 saw the fourth-highest mileage number ever since the FHWA first began collecting VMT information nearly eight decades ago.
While dipping VMT has had its benefits for transit ridership and environmental air quality, the uptick is particularly good news for the ailing federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which provides state and local governments with money for transportation. A decrease in VMT during the end of 2007 following the Great Recession came at a time when highway and transit spending was exceeding revenues in the HTF. Since 2010, as the economy has improved, VMT has been slowly inching upward. However, this latest FHWA data suggests that VMT and the gasoline taxes that are collected remains a viable way to generate user fees for the HTF to dedicate towards transportation improvements. The real problem appears to be the annual decrease in purchasing power of user fees as a result of Congress’ inability to raise rates in order to maintain necessary federal investments in infrastructure. Congress should be encouraged by this latest report on the health of American mobility and use it as an opportunity to #FixTheTrustFund.