Americans would be willing to boost their tax support for improved transportation if state and federal leaders would muster the political will to take the case for such improvements to them, Rep. James Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee told AASHTO's Washington Briefing in a keynote luncheon speech on Wednesday, March 7.
"People are willing to make that investment," he said, noting that the average American pays $240 a year in fuel taxes, or about 2 cents per mile, and that the last time the federal gasoline tax--now 18.4 cents per gal--was increased was in 1993.
Oberstar (D-Minn.) noted that Americans were able to withstand last year's severe run-up in oil prices, when gasoline shot from about $1.40 per gal to more than $3 a gal in some parts of the country.
"Where did it go? To OPEC!" Oberstar said, referring to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the international cartel. He also noted that footing the bill for transportation has always seemed daunting, but that in 1956, when the Interstate Highway System was undertaken, transportation costs were 2% of personal income in the U.S., and today, they only represent four tenths of 1% of personal income.
Oberstar spoke of the need to invest in U.S. infrastructure to keep the nation competitive--not only in highways, but in other modes of transport as well. He noted Brazil's closer links between its agricultural production and ports pose a threat to U.S. farmers who face an 820-hour roundtrip from Clinton, Iowa, down the Mississippi River to the Port of New Orleans that could be speeded up significantly through investment in the lock system on the Mississippi.
Yet even as other nations invest to compete with the U.S., Oberstar said, visitors from foreign nations marvel at the longstanding system of federal/state cooperation, and technical expertise provided by AASHTO, coupled with university-based and Transportation Research Board research, that has brought the U.S. to its current leadership role in transportation.
"There's no such relationship anywhere else in the world," he said. "Take pride--you're unique."