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.
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.
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.
The HVUT is a significant source of transportation funding in the U.S. In 2008 alone, the HVUT generated more than $1.0 billion in Federal HTF revenue.
The need for road surface maintenance is greatly attributable to the heaviest vehicles. The U.S. Department of Transportation in its most recent Highway Cost Allocation Study estimated that light single-unit trucks, operating at less than 25,000 pounds, pay 150 percent of their road costs while the heaviest tractor–trailer combination trucks, weighing over 100,000 pounds, pay only 50 percent of their road costs.
The volume of truck freight has grown significantly over the past few decades. Between 1975 and 1995, domestic intercity tonnage carried by trucks grew 52 percent over a fairly static system of highways. Looking forward, the freight tonnage carried by trucks is expected to increase 50 percent between 2002 and 2035.
The HVUT levels the playing field by ensuring that operators of heavy trucks pay a little more for the highway network relative to motorists and light trucks, which do less damage to the system.
In spite of the best efforts of federal and state compliance officers, a number of HVUT evasion methods have recently been detected in IRS audits and FHWA compliance reviews. To combat these methods, the IRS, FHWA, state and local agents must work collaboratively to identify and address HVUT evasion.
HVUT compliance ultimately impacts every individual, organization and industry that relies on the transportation network. Anyone wanting to reduce traffic congestion, improve economic productivity, increase roadway safety and mobility, decrease emergency response time, and reduce fuel consumption has an interest in enhancing HVUT compliance.
Penalties for HVUT non-compliance are costly. In addition to federal monetary penalties, states also suspend the registrations of vehicles for which proof of HVUT payments has not been provided. HVUT evasion penalties can be even more significant, resulting in fines and incarceration.
The vast majority of all funds contributed by states to the Federal HTF are returned through highway fund apportionments. Up to 25 percent of a state's Interstate Maintenance funds can be withheld if it fails one of the periodic compliance reviews. A finding of non-compliance could, therefore, cost the state millions in lost highway funding.
There is a renewed commitment to the HVUT program at the national level. Federal agents are recognizing the importance of the program in light of current funding limitations and are taking the steps needed to enhance compliance. To support this effort, the FHWA offers several instructional tools that are collectively designed to enhance HVUT enforcement.
PDF files can be viewed with the Acrobat® Reader®