Forum: No magic bullet for transportation funding

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A federal transportation policy forum concluded no single mechanism will solve the transportation funding crisis, but possible ways include new taxes and tolls and congestion pricing strategies. Participants acknowledged potential drawbacks to all these options, such as lack of public support for tolling and equity concerns with certain pricing mechanisms.

The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, released a summary of forum results Sept. 19. The May 23 event brought together transportation experts from government, academia and industry. Groups represented included FedEx, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Reason Foundation and the Port of Miami.

Who said what, exactly, is a secret, the GAO said. “This forum was designed for the participants to discuss these issues openly, without individual attribution, in order to facilitate a rich and substantive discussion of these issues,” the GAO stated.

Participants said the funding problem’s size and nature cannot be solved by one approach. User fees generally are inexpensive to administer, participants agreed, though they noted that restrictive federal policies can prevent state and local agencies from adopting them. The federal government needs to use its leverage with states and local governments to support pricing initiatives, participants said.

Among other conclusions drawn from the forum:

  • The U.S. transportation policy has lost focus. The nation’s overall transportation goals need to be better defined and linked to performance measures that evaluate what policies and programs accomplish.
  • As the federal share of total transportation spending declines, federal transportation policy goals and their link to local decisions and local spending must be well defined. Performance results should be used to drive federal policy and funding decisions.
  • Enhancing mobility and maintaining global competitiveness are the most important transportation policy goals.