The Heavy Vehicle Use Tax and Who Pays It
The Federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) finances the federal highway program through fuel and other highway–use taxes. The funds are invested in our nation's transportation infrastructure.
In 2008, Federal HTF receipts topped $38.7 billion, with $33.5 billion specifically dedicated to the HTF's Highway Account. As motor fuel prices have topped $4 per gallon in the U.S., consumption of motor fuels, and consequently receipts from motor fuel taxes, have declined. In July 2008, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) projected a $3.1 billion shortfall in receipts into the Federal HTF's Highway Account for 2009.
Due to the way that highway funds are allocated, every $1 of shortfall translates into a $4 dollar drop in spending. If the shortfall is not addressed, federal highway aid to states would be slashed by approximately $12 billion in 2009. The severity of the problem is apparent when noting that total federal highway aid to states was expected to be $41 billion in 2009.
Related Shortfall Costs Are High
As conditions of our roads and bridges continue to deteriorate, congestion will grow, the U.S. economy will lose billions in productivity, and fuel consumption will increase.
The Texas Transportation Institute through its Annual Urban Mobility study recently reported that, based on the costs associated with wasted time and fuel, congestion represented an annual $78 billion drain on the U.S. economy. The TTI report also found that congestion resulted in 4.2 billion lost hours and 2.9 billion gallons of wasted fuel. On average, congestion results in 38 hours of additional travel time and 26 gallons of wasted fuel per traveler, costing motorists $710 annually, up from $680 in 2004.1
Substandard highway infrastructure also reduces roadway safety, increases vehicle maintenance costs, damages the environment due to pollution caused by vehicle emissions, expands energy consumption, and increases emergency response time.
Highway Performance Costs
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) examines the condition and performance status of the nation's highways, bridges and mass transit systems periodically, and in its most recent study reported that:
- To keep average highway user costs from rising above 2004 levels, the average annual investment in our nation's roads would have to increase to $78.8 billion, which is 12.2 percent above current investment levels of $70.3 billion. This analysis does not include the long–term effects of inflation.
- To improve highway facilities to the point where any additional investment would no longer be cost beneficial, investment levels would need to grow to $131.7 billion annually, or 87.4 percent above current levels. Once again, the effects of inflation are not factored into this analysis.2
The National Benefits from Transportation Infrastructure Investments
Investment in our highway infrastructure helps:
- Save lives, time and money
- Reduce the number and severity of crashes for all kinds of vehicles
- Enhance the ability of the entire community of emergency responders
- Lower fuel and insurance costs
- Increase mobility
- Ease congestion
- Decrease energy consumption
- Boost air quality
- Improve the efficient movement of goods
- Raise business productivity
- Strengthen the nation's economic productivity
1Schrank, D and T. Lomax. The 2007 Urban Mobility Report, Report Prepared for the Texas Transportation Institute, College Station, TX, September 2007.
2Federal Highway Administration, Status of the Nation's Highways, Bridges, and Transit: Conditions and Performance, Washington, DC, 2006.