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Former Transportation Secretary Calls On Congress To Raise Gas Tax

Ray LaHood says an increase in the federal gas tax would go a long way towards paying for the country's infrastructure.
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Ray LaHood says an increase in the federal gas tax would go a long way towards paying for the country's infrastructure.

Former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said Congress must realize upgrading the nation's infrastructure will require raising hundreds of billions of dollars in new revenue. He called on lawmakers to raise the federal gas tax — last increased in 1993 to $.18 per gallon — at a forum on next generation transportation systems at the Mobility Lab in Arlington.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's priorities have been building and repairing roads and bridges, LaHood said, but the federal government must now come up with money to help states, cities, and towns build high-speed rail lines, streetcar systems, and even bike sharing programs.

"All of these forms of transportation become job creators for the people that build them, job creators for the economic corridors that are created, and it enhances the community," LaHood said to an audience of businessmen, smart growth advocates, and transportation planners at George Mason University's Arlington campus.

"So the debate now is how do we pay for all the things we need in infrastructure? How do we help these communities like Arlington County and other areas of the country that want walking and biking paths, that want Safe Routes to School, that want the opportunity for bus rapid transit, that want a streetcar line, that want high-speed rail?" LaHood said.

Although he cautioned that raising the gas tax alone would not solve the funding problem because of increasing fuel-efficiency standards and diminishing vehicle miles traveled, the former secretary said Congress should hike the tax to replenish the highway trust fund.

"The highway trust fund has been a good source of funding. It can't be the only source of funding. I believe Congress ought to raise the gas tax ten cents a gallon and index it. If the gas tax had been indexed in 1993 we wouldn't be having this debate," LaHood said. "What happens when gasoline standards - CAFE standards - go to 54.5 miles per gallon? We're going to have less gas receipts."

LaHood said Virginia, recognizing the diminishing rate of return of its state fuel tax, thought "outside the box" in raising its sales tax instead to fund transportation.

"America has always been number one in transportation. We are not number one today. We are way down the list. China is going to build 85 airports this year. They are building roads, and bridges, and high-speed rail. Why? To attract businesses that create jobs," he said.

In addition to the gas tax, LaHood said the federal and state governments should consider VMT taxes, public private partnerships, and tolling to raise transportation funds.

"But you got to have a big pot of money. We don't have it now. The reason Congress passed a two-year bill, MAP-21, was because they could only find $109 billion. We need a five- or six-hundred billion dollar transportation program. That will just scratch the surface."

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