According to Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, you and all other Americans stopped driving to the tune of 9.6 billion less miles in May 2008 than in May 2007. But America had just started stopping, because in the seven months from November 2007 to May 2008, we drove a staggering 40.5 billion less miles than during the same period in 2006-2007.
Why is that a problem?
Shouldn't less driving be good news on all fronts? Less driving means less greenhouse gas produced, less dependence on foreign oil, and more money saved by us.
The problem, according to Sec. Peters, is that less driving leads to less gas purchased, which leads to less money taken in by the Federal Highway Trust Fund. Currently, 18.4-cents out of every gallon of gas you buy and 24.4-cents out of every gallon of diesel you buy goes into the Federal Highway Trust Fund to pay for highway and bridge maintenance and new construction across the nation.
"By driving less and using more fuel-efficient vehicles, Americans are showing us that the highways of tomorrow cannot be supported solely by the federal gas tax. We must embrace more sustainable funding sources for highways and bridges through more sustainable and effective ways such as congestion pricing and private activity bonds," said Sec. Peters in a press release.
What Did She Mean by "Embrace?"
Warning: Anytime a government official asks you to "embrace" something, you're going to pay for that little hug. Terms like, "sustainable funding sources," "congestion pricing," and "private activity bonds" simply mean tollroads and bridges, and privately owned tollroads. Get ready to "embrace" them, because the DOT has pressed for supplementing the Highway Trust Fund with more toll-based facilities for years.
How Much Money are We Talking About?
Thoughtfully timed to dovetail with Sec. Peters' statements the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) came out with a report estimating the cost of repairing and modernizing America's bridges alone at $140 billion.
Designed to last 50 years, the average age of a bridge on the federal highway system has now reached 43 years, with about 20% of the more than 600,000 total bridges already over 50 years old, according to AASHTO.
"The costs of steel, asphalt, concrete, and earthwork have risen by at least 50% in the past five years, forcing delays of bridge improvements and replacements," states the AASHTO report. "Nearly every state faces funding shortages that prevent them from the kind of on-going preventive maintenance, repair, and replacement needed to keep their bridges sound indefinitely."
And the states, of course, draw heavily from the now endangered Federal Highway Trust Fund. And that's why you need to get ready for Sec. Peters' costly "embrace."