Discussion: View Thread

Sustainable Funding of Our Road Network

  • 1.  Sustainable Funding of Our Road Network

    Posted 11-14-2017 09:56 AM
    Having a sustainable modality of financing road maintenance and construction is paramount to having a road network that is cost effective and serves the public's transport requirements. Historically for the federal government and states fuel taxes have been the main source road financing; in recent years the revenues collected have not increased sufficiently to maintain the condition of road network. A Framework for Infrastructure Funding by the American Transportation Research Institute, a trucking industry funded institute, (November 2017) provides an overview of road funding in the USA. This excellent report should be utilized by organizations including the ASCE who are concern about the deteriorated state of our road infrastructure in their efforts to lobby and change Congress' reluctance to increase the fuel tax to finance the Highway Trust Fund. This should be done in light of the on-going legislative proposals for tax reform in Congress.

    Six methods of financing road development are briefly described in the report, each is evaluated and the results are summarized in the following table:

    Methods of Funding Road Infrastructure

    The report correctly indicates that a fuel tax is administratively the simplest to implement, is the most cost-effective in terms of collecting the tax, is equitable since all vehicle operators pay according to their use of road system, and is most effective in collecting funds for the network as a whole. The report proposes increases to the fuel tax to fund the backlog of road maintenance and improvements to restore our national road network to, maybe, an ASCE C or B rating. ASCE should review the report as quickly as possible to endorse it or make modifications to it and propose the revision as a joint report.

    Derek Sherman P.E., M.ASCE
    Transport Infrastructure Consultant
    Mitchelville MD

  • 2.  RE: Sustainable Funding of Our Road Network

    Posted 11-15-2017 11:35 AM
    It seems the direction of the quantifiers is based on antiquated paradigms.  Simplified, the ultimate, i.e. majority, factor in the equations is to "Tax Bads, Not Goods."

    Stephen Hemphill
    Rio Rancho NM

  • 3.  RE: Sustainable Funding of Our Road Network

    Posted 11-16-2017 11:28 AM
    Thank you, for sharing this report. Congress should take note that the trucking industry is in favor of added fuel taxes to improve our nation's roadways which will enhance goods movement. Pavement structural sections are most impacted by the heaviest loads, trucks and buses, and these users have a commerce component that is vital to the economy of the United States. Its a win-win result when we invest more in our roadways and improve the movement of freight as well as people. I will use your reference the next time I am speaking with my local congress person. Thanks!

    Kenneth Rosenfield P.E., F.ASCE
    Director of Public Services / City Engineer
    Santa Ana CA

  • 4.  RE: Sustainable Funding of Our Road Network

    Posted 11-16-2017 01:06 PM
    Edited by Tel Jensen 11-17-2017 03:23 PM
    I don't buy that ranking. Considering the organization that published the report, though, the preferred funding method is no surprise.

    I have read posts written on this forum--by members much more familiar with road engineering than I am--that indicate damage to roads is approximately proportional to the 4th power of axle weight. Is fuel consumption also proportional to the 4th power of axle weight? If it is not, then this method is, by definition, not equitable. Yet fuel tax receives the highest available ranking for equity.

    I have not read the report. Does it indicate the fuel tax that would be required to pay for the construction and maintenance that we're told is necessary? I do not believe an adequately large tax would have any hope of being enacted in any state in the union, let alone federally. Further, a tax that is high enough assuming current consumption levels would decrease consumption, requiring that the tax be further increased, which would again reduce consumption. In short, there is no fuel tax that would raise enough revenue to maintain our current road network, much less expand it.

    Tel Jensen
    Woodland WA

  • 5.  RE: Sustainable Funding of Our Road Network

    Posted 11-22-2017 06:33 PM

    I respectfully disagree with some of the concluding points.  Disclaimer:  I have not read the report, my comments are based on the original post.

    I served on the Wisconsin Transportation Finance and Policy Commission and continue to study this problem.

    "… is equitable since all vehicle operators pay according to their use of road system…"  This is false for many reasons.  The first is easy, not all vehicles consume fuel at relatively the same rate.  In the early days of the fuel taxes the range of fuel consumption for vehicles was rather narrow-today it is much broader.  Start adding alternate fuel and hybrid vehicles and the correlation completely disappears.  Everyone talks about the wear and tear of heavy vehicles-which does impact not only pavement, but also structures.  In congestion areas, weight is secondary to space.  The vehicles that occupy (use up) the capacity of the roadway should be assessed a higher fee to pay for congestion relief.  If this induces a behavioral change that modifies demand-all the better.

    "…and is most effective in collecting funds for the network as a whole."  I would certainly agree that the present system is effective, but it is a very old system and ignores the tremendous technological and data gathering systems that are already in place.  We cannot look at effectiveness of collection with our heads in the sand.  Tolling RFID transponders can be purchased for less than a penny now for open gantry tolling. 

    Road costs can be assessed by a multi-variant equation that includes classification of roadway, time of use-both duration and time of day, weight, passengers, and more.  Again if this induces a behavioral change to reduce peak hours and or level peaks-all the better.

    Public reaction-this is very hard to gauge because the over whelming reaction is always no new (increase) taxes.  Why do we not put the fuel tax charge on the purchase receipt like we do with sales tax?  Most people haven't a clue what they are currently paying-and how cheap access to the transportation really is.  We pay hundreds of dollars a month for cell phone service yet are unwilling to pay far less than that to have an efficient transportation system.


    Martin Hanson P.E., F.ASCE
    Starboard Tack Consulting
    Eau Claire WI

  • 6.  RE: Sustainable Funding of Our Road Network

    Posted 11-30-2017 02:27 PM
    Mr. Sherman,

    Thank you for posting the conclusions of this report.  Federal as well as State gasoline fuel highway taxes are way overdue for updates and at the very least an inflationary adjustment.  This would be an easy sell if the public were confident that the funding would go towards transportation system funding.  Therefore this funding stream should be ear-marked for that use.  And I would argue that funding for supporting mass transportation systems should be allowed to obtain this funding since we are running out of space and lose efficiency when over-expanding our road networks and some form of mass transportation is required for a sustainable and efficient system.

    I wholly support ASCE taking a more pro-active stance on support for appropriate Highway Trust Fund increased and sustainable funding.  And this study should begin to ease those secondary concerns folks have about what is the most equitable way to "Tax" for this service.  So I hope ASCE will distribute this more widely.  

    I for one am not a fan of increased tolling of highways nor of exclusive private-public partnerships that impose restrictions on what a surrounding community can do to improve traffic flow if it will adversely impact the toll-road generating revenue for a private entity.  But I am supportive of an increase in our gasoline tax.  

    Douglas Porter P.E., M.ASCE
    Lakewood CO

  • 7.  RE: Sustainable Funding of Our Road Network

    Posted 11-30-2017 04:33 PM
    Rhode Island is moving ahead with truck tolls.  It remains to be seen whether the truckers will be able to challenge them in court once they are implemented.  The judgement may result in a win for the state, removal of the tolls, or tolls applied to all vehicles.  We design highways and bridges for truck loads and they do the most damage.  I 100% agree that much of our design is dictated by space and to alleviate the congestion due to CARS.  The justification to tolling trucks only is doesn't make sense.  It will lead to trucks damaging back roads and bridges as they try to avoid the tolls.  What is the solution?  Take care of what you have and hold contractors accountable.

    Chad Morrison P.E., M.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Greenville RI

  • 8.  RE: Sustainable Funding of Our Road Network

    Posted 12-01-2017 11:23 AM
    ​I find the report conclusions interesting and thought provoking, and the various viewpoints expressed illustrate the complexity of the issue overall.  Each of the funding "options" as defined in the report have their pluses and minuses (I have not read the full report), but there is another angle from which I'd like to approach the subject and would welcome comments.

    In recent years I have seen or read about polls and studies from various groups and sources supporting one or more of the options over others.  The one thing that seems overarching from the perspective of public support, is that a substantial majority of the public would support some tax increases if the funds raised were dedicated SOLELY to infrastructure spending.  I know in our state, there have been "raids" on the transportation fund to balance the state budget in the past.  That must NOT happen under any future scenario.

    One other point (and this is my biggest issue), the "fuel tax" as it exists is less equitable NOW than in the past, due in large measure to the wide range of fuel efficiencies that have evolved, as one of the contributors here rightly pointed out.  I believe the reluctance to support a VMT charge (one of the most equitable solutions, in my view) is that this will be IN ADDITION to maintaining the fuel tax, and NOT a replacement for it.   If people understood that with any new alternative funding mechanism, the actual fuel tax would go away, support for the change (actually, any change) might be easier to obtain.

    Neither of these factors seem to get much attention in any major discussions, which tells me the intent on the part of our representatives IS to do neither.

    Kenneth Polcak M.ASCE
    Senior Transportation Engineer
    State Of Md


  • 9.  RE: Sustainable Funding of Our Road Network

    Posted 12-05-2017 01:38 PM
    Ken is right on, Less than 50% of allocated funds gets to the end infrastructure project , add in the abysmal AEC efficiency quality 35%  its no wonder the public sees no value . We are working with major re insurance risk management developing programs that the motorist can see in real time how bad their road is and how much its costing them and what happens when its improved

    Pete Baston
    IDEAS. 4 the Pursuit of Excellence
    Tel: 303-578-0886
    Skype & Hangouts = Ideapete

  • 10.  RE: Sustainable Funding of Our Road Network

    Posted 12-05-2017 01:39 PM
    Find the Planet Earth metro area of the same size (area and population) as Washington, DC that has solved the daily urban surface transportation conundrum (or, at least, has made conspicuous progress thereto), and that finding will, in large part, guide the surface transportation planning and funding (and future metro land use development) solution for which we all yearn. It is not too late to get it right.

    Robert Bullard P.E., M.ASCE
    Ahimsa Technic Inc
    Ponce Inlet FL

  • 11.  RE: Sustainable Funding of Our Road Network

    Posted 12-11-2017 11:57 AM
    Kenneth is quite right in stating "the "fuel tax" as it exists is less equitable NOW than in the past".  In the long run, a VMT tax is more desirable; however, getting there will be quite complex technically and politically. There is a number of issues that would need to be resolved.  For example, here are a few questions that would need to be answered:
    • How and who would collect the tax?
    • What equipment in the vehicle and public infrastructure would be needed?  National standards would need to be introduced. 
    • How to share the revenue generated among the Federal, state and local governments in equitable and efficient manner? 
    • What should the rate be and how would it vary by class of vehicle and ownership?
    • A contentious issue deals with questions of privacy.
    In the meantime, the fuel tax appears to be the best alternative.  Legislatively, the fuel tax revenues could be protected from uses other than road maintenance/rehabilitation. To do so requires a political will and consensus for a sustainable road network.

    Derek Sherman P.E., M.ASCE
    Transport Infrastructure Consultant
    Mitchellville MD

  • 12.  RE: Sustainable Funding of Our Road Network

    Posted 02-19-2018 06:12 PM
    As part of any request, a viable solution must be presented.
    How are you proposing to build a four-lane highway without a funding mechanism?
    The need for road and bridge projects are well known and many in number, the snag has been how to squeeze the turnip that will pay for these public works projects.
    About a third of the people will agree to a fuel tax increase (gas and diesel fuel tax), another third will opine that fossil fuels are a dying source of power and, yet another third will state flat out that they can not afford yet another tax or even an increase in the existing taxes-no matter if it's license registration, motor vehicle excise or fuel tax.
    The solutions are not nice in any scenario; a "strong arm" effort like recent health care legislation on a national level, or piecemeal small efforts by a state or regional government. The former will only lead to repeal and the later is a classic example of "too little, too late".
    The proposal that is best suited for long term success is an educational effort to inform the public about the costs of road and bridge construction and the average life of a newly constructed road or bridge. With a comparison to a household budget and a roof that needs replacing maybe we can draw some support for a SAFE (Sustainable Accountable Fair Economic) Funding plan for roads and bridges.
    Step 1. Collect data to determine average cost to build a typical rural two lane road and bridge.
    Step 2. Collect data on the life of a typical rural two lane road and bridge.
    Step 3. Collect data on the number of users and the burden placed on the road or bridge.
    Step 4. Use budget math to calculate costs incurred by various users.
    For a public information presentation, a sample of local examples should be used. For example:
    1. Collect data to determine average cost to build a typical rural two lane road and bridge.
    A recently constructed State highway (near the public meeting site) would provide a good example of the high costs of a new road and bridge. For transparency and to build credibility the costs will be based on recent bid lettings:
    $1,000,000 per mile is a typical amount for this area. Demonstrations of high costs could be presented as dollars per foot of road way or square foot or square yard of pavement.
    For Example, a typical mile of rural pavement is 24 feet wide and 5280 feet long or 126,720 square feet or $7.89 per square foot or over $71 per square yard as compared to household carpet at $15 per square yard or shingles at $40 per square (100 sq. ft.).

    2. Collect data on the life of a typical rural two lane road and bridge. Recent research would indicate loaded trucks make about 600,000 to 700,000 passes over a test section before reconstruction is needed. Since this is one lane and a typical rural road has two lanes the life of the pavement could be argued to be about 1.2 to 1.4 million passes. Cars do not burden the pavement structure but do demand snow/ice removal, pavement striping and traffic control ancillary costs of up $4000 per mile per year.
    3. The math would indicate cars and other light load vehicles would be assessed $0.05 per mile and trucks would be assessed $0.50 per mile.
    4. Since fuel taxes are tethered to petroleum product use, a future model should be based on tracking the route used with subsets for vehicle weight, congestion and safety enhancements.
    In summary, the most equitable funding system would be one that reflects the replacement costs of the pavement and bridge structure with subsets that also recognize congestion and safety costs. The system should be able to reimburse the highway owner for the burden placed on each segment of the transportation system, in such a case a city street would collect fees when a detour of a state highway was forced in play due to a crash. The billing would follow other utility billing models with details allowing for easy reconciling of accuracy. The bottom line will be a move from all travelers paying for burden placed on pavement and bridge structures to a method of payment based on sustainable, equitable and accountable facts.

    Barry Anderson P.E., M.ASCE
    Granite Falls MN