The Orlando Sentinel notes that Central Florida Rep. John Mica, who chairs the Transportation Committee in Congress, has dropped his opposition to toll lanes on interstates, saying he’s willing to add them to new lanes as a way to pay for widening efforts.
Part of the reason is that revenues from the gas tax, a vital source of funding for transportation projects, is falling short. As Bloomberg explains, Congress has been topping off the federal Highway Trust Fund with funds from general revenue, a practice the House has revolved to end:
The federal gasoline tax was last raised in 1993 and stands at 18.4 cents a gallon. The decline results from improvements in vehicle fuel-efficiency and not adjusting the tax for inflation.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is the largest business-lobbying group and opposes most tax increases, and Obama’s federal deficit commission have backed a 15-cent-a- gallon fuel-tax increase.
Congress passed its last long-term highway funding legislation in 2005. Funding has continued through a series of extensions.
Hence the House’s transportation funding plan, unveiled earlier this month, looks like this:
John Mica, chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, rolled out a proposal that would authorize $230 billion for transportation infrastructure spending over six years. The distribution will begin with $35 billion in 2012 — roughly a third of the current spending figure — and increase to $42 billion in 2017. Eighty percent of spending will go to highways, and 20 percent to trains and transit. The current plan will expire at the end of September.
That $35 billion falls short of projected needs, so other sources of funds, like added toll lanes on newly widened interstates, will have to help make up the difference. As the Sentinel reports:
Florida Department of Transportation officials are excited by Mica’s new stand because they think toll lanes could speed up a planned $2.3 billion overhaul of I-4 through downtown Orlando. Right now, there is no money for the 21-mile project.
“By allowing states to toll new capacity on interstate highways, FDOT will be able to reduce congestion on our highways, which will improve the quality of life of our citizens and visitors,” FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad said.