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Transportation infrastructure: California Rep. pushes for increasing diesel tax

By Staff
October 04, 2010

Recently-introduced legislation by Representative Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) addresses efficient ways for goods to move in and out of the United States.

Entitled The Freight is the Future of Commerce Act in the United States Act of 2010 (Freight FOCUS Act, H.R. 6291), the bill offers up myriad ways to address options for more efficient goods movement at a time when meaningful progress towards U.S. surface transportation authorization is seemingly stalled.

“Transportation hubs across the nation are hampered by aging infrastructure and unsupported transportation corridors,” Congresswoman Richardson said in a statement. “My district, California’s 37th, is home to multiple freeways and railways, including the vital Alameda Corridor, that see 40% of the nation’s freight cross over them each year. These major freight corridors are responsible for transporting goods to and from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the busiest port complex in the nation. The ability for goods to flow smoothly and efficiently impacts both the local and national economies.”   

Included in the bill are:

  • the call for establishing a process for freight planning and prioritizing funding centered around a new assistant secretary heading up a new Office of Freight Policy in the Department of Transportation, which would conduct planning and designate corridors of national significance;
  • public and private sector involvement to prioritize major goods movement corridors, funding projects to alleviate choke point, and providing funding to mitigate the effects of goods movement on the environment and public health; and
  • the establishment of a Goods Movement Trust Fund that would serve as a dedicated source of funding for transportation infrastructure projects, with safeguards to ensure that if funding came in from a specific mode, funds would be dedicated to projects for that mode.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of this bill’s objectives is the approach to funding the Goods Movement Trust Fund. Richardson is calling for a 12 cent increase in the diesel tax paid by trucks, coupled with a $3 billion a year transfer from the General Fund into the Goods Movement Trust Fund.

Were this to come to fruition, it would represent the first time a gasoline tax of any kind has occurred since it last was raised in 1994 and is currently at 23.4 cents for diesel and 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline.

Richardson’s office said that this legislation has been endorsed by the American Trucking Association, the Waterfront Coalition, and the Port of Long Beach, among other concerns.

The future of surface transportation in the U.S. has received a fair amount of attention lately, with the White House calling for a six-year, $50 billion plan to augment domestic goods movement, as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s release of its inaugural Transportation Performance Index, which closely examines how United States transportation infrastructure is serving the needs of the country’s economy and business community, and Build America’s Future’s push for an infrastructure bank in the U.S. to help U.S. cities and states find additional methods of financing for projects of regional and national significance.

On top of these developments is the fact that SAFETEA-LU (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users), the primary source for surface transportation funding which expired on September 30, 2009, and was then kept afloat by a series of continuing resolutions to keep funding at current levels. In March, Congress passed a measure to keep SAFETEA-LU funding intact through the end of 2010.

“The transportation community was very pleased that President Obama said he is committed to doing a six-year transportation bill,” said Janet Kavinoky, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Director of Transportation Infrastructure. “This is a huge shift from the extension bandwagon. I don’t think anyone expects the $50 billion to be part of a formal, standalone bill. For everyone watching this issue, it is likely there will be another SAFETEA-LU extension and will probably happen in December. The debate is for how long it will be.”

When it comes to an extension, though, Kavinoky explained there are two schools of thought. The first being that one extension of sufficient length may be the only extension realistically needed between now and when a new bill gets done. The other thought, she said, is a shorter extension to keep pressure on Congress to have them keep working on a new bill.

At this point, there is a high level of uncertainty about the length of an extension. But with a new Congress coming in January, Kavinoky said the earliest a new bill could be passed through both chambers of Congress and into a conference would be at the end of September 2011.


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