A year ago this month, I issued a report outlining the tremendous deficit we face in our transportation system, explaining how we got to this point and sharing a potential solution in the form of a 10-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax increase at the state level.
We didn’t get here overnight. We have had sustained disinvestment in infrastructure in this country for decades.
In fact, Pima County is really just a microcosm of what is happening at the national level, where 54 percent of the country’s roads are considered poor or failing.
There has been very little political engagement at the legislative or congressional levels to fix our current predicament. But if the federal Highway Trust Fund meets projections and goes broke by September of this year, it’s about to become a problem that can’t be ignored any longer.
If Congress does not act to keep the fund afloat, it will essentially cut off billions in federal dollars that flow to the states to fund road improvements. There are no good outcomes if that happens. States will either have to pick up the costs of ongoing projects or cancel projects outright. The most likely outcome is that we will slip back into recession.
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has projected that more than 6,000 projects could be jeopardized and 650,000 direct jobs could be at stake. You think dodging pots holes in neighborhood streets is tough; try dodging them at 75 miles-per-hour on the freeway.
With the economy still fragile as we emerge from the Great Recession, this is the last thing we need.
Taxes aren’t popular, but it is the mechanism by which we provide services. It’s how we make sure we have the amenities that enhance our quality of life, from libraries to parks and job training – and the means of getting to them.
The gasoline tax at the federal level has remained the same since 1993. And it’s been even longer since the State of Arizona has increased its tax, which has remained at 18 cents per gallon since 1991. The same dollar 23 years ago now buys only fifty cents worth of construction. And even as the strength of the dollar has eroded, population has boomed. Arizona in 1991 was able to invest $185 per capita in its transportation systems. That number today is $85.
The association of transportation officials has estimated that the average resident pays $46 a month in federal and state gas taxes. That’s a bargain, considering the complexity of the system that it funds. We pay triple that amount for cell phone coverage. And it’s considerably less than the average $160 a month electricity bill or $124 cable bill.
History has shown transportation investment, from railroads to dams to interstates, has always led to economic prosperity. The anemic funding of our current transportation system will in no way foster the next economic expansion in this country.
It’s going to take political courage and a good dose of reality to drive a solution for the current state of disinvestment in our infrastructure, but that investment has proven to pay off in economic stability and growth.