The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission held its first meeting on May 24 to begin a year-long effort to provide recommendations to Congress on the future of surface transportation programs and revenue options.
Recognizing the need to shape the future direction of surface transportation programs and funding, Congress created the commission in the most recent transportation authorization, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, signed by President Bush on Aug. 10, 2005.
The commission has a wide-ranging mission as it studies the current condition and future needs of the entire surface-transportation system and the short- and long-term sources of Highway Trust Fund revenue. It has been asked to develop a conceptual plan that includes alternative approaches to ensure the system meets the needs of transportation stakeholders. The commission will also consult with those stakeholders as it develops recommendations.
The commission has 12 members, including U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, who serves as its chairman. At the first meeting, the commissioners expressed diverse views on the important issues the members must consider. Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi emphasized the need for clear policy, and advised that states are facing high project costs and tight budgets. Mineta said that in the face of the financial pressures, state and local governments are moving forward with the innovative funding methods to supplement the federal gas tax.
Jack Basso, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Official's director of management and business development, presented a history of the Federal-Aid Highway and Transit programs and information on the condition of the Highway Trust Fund. Basso also pointed to the impact of inflation on the federal gas tax, which has stood at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993.
The commission plans to hold additional meetings in June and July. Field hearings will likely start in September.