Zoran Milich / Reuters

How can the US repair its crumbling infrastructure?

The Highway Trust Fund, supported by a gas tax, may dwindle by this summer

Ray’s thoughts on the gas tax

The country's transportation web is falling to pieces, the cost of repairs and rebuilding is going to rise astronomically in the coming years, and people are using less gas, so a gasoline sales tax is earning less revenue for the federal agency in charge of it all. When it's time to talk about how to pay for the bills coming due, things get even more complicated. Somebody ought to fix it, and somebody's got to pay for it. Americans just aren't clear about who.

As families begin to pile into the car for summer break, gas prices are steadily rising in its usual seasonal surge. With each gallon of gas pumped along the way, those families are funding federal transit projects. 

Since 1993, Americans have paid 18 cents per gallon in a federal tax known as the gas or fuel tax, and each state adds its own taxes. On average, about 50 cents per gallon of regular you buy is taxes.

The Highway Trust Fund, largely financed by this revenue, has paid for road construction and transit projects since the late 1950s.

Today that fund is starting to drown under the weight of upkeep for the nation's infrastructure and, unless Congress acts, will run out of money by the summer. 

A combination of Americans' driving more efficient cars and the soaring costs of infrastructure projects is draining the fund and putting it on a path toward insolvency by September.

Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx wants to release states from an age-old ban that prevents them from using tolls to pay for federal interstate highways.

Right now across the country, we have highways that need repairing, ports that need expanding and transit systems needing extending. And not enough money to pay for any of it.

Anthony Foxx

secretary of transportation

Local and state governments could stand to lose nearly $50 billion in funding for transit and transportation projects if Congress cannot find a way to get more money to the Highway Trust Fund. 

For now, federal tax money can pay for existing projects but not for new state and local bridge, road or transit construction.

The White House is seeking more than $300 billion in the next four years to fix the nation's crumbling roads and bridges. Its Grow America Act is meant to address The Highway Trust Fund's shortfall and address a backlog of structurally weak bridges and aging transit systems. In addition, the administration says it will create millions of jobs.

"So the bottom line is there’s work to be done, workers ready to do it," said President Barack Obama in February. "Rebuilding our infrastructure is vital to business. It creates good-paying jobs that, by the way, cannot be outsourced."

None of that will change the gas tax, though. Instead, the president's plan focuses on higher corporate taxes to make up the fund's shortfall, because the administration does not want to ask people to pay more at the pump.

What is the overall impact of our infrastructure problem?

Should we index the gas tax to inflation?

What have other countries been doing that we haven't?

We consulted a panel of experts for the Inside Story.

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