More than 60 years ago, the interstate highway system was envisioned to connect the country from coast to coast. Initially, a modest 3-cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline and diesel fuel was established and wholly dedicated to the construction and maintenance of roads and bridges.
The vision became reality and exceeded expectations, connecting communities, making travel easier, and improving the flow of commerce. A short time later, the gasoline and diesel tax was increased to 4 cents per gallon—where it stayed until 1983, when it was doubled.
Unfortunately, this also marked the point in which highway taxes began to be diverted to non-highway projects, including public transportation systems. It wasn’t long before revenue diversion expanded greatly, bringing us to today, when 36 cents of every tax dollar paid by highway users are diverted to non-highway programs.
We continually find ourselves discussing a revenue shortfall for our nation’s transportation network for a couple of reasons: Billions of highway dollars are diverted for other uses, and federal and state fuel taxes have not been adjusted to reflect inflation.
Gasoline and diesel taxes are capable of supporting our infrastructure needs, but policymakers at every level of government refuse to address the underlying problems that got us to this point.