Buttigieg discusses Highway Trust Fund solutions at AASHTO meeting

March 1, 2021

Mark Schremmer


U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said all options must be considered when looking for sustainable ways to fund the nation’s highways.

As part of a virtual meeting last week with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, Buttigieg was asked how solvency could be restored to the Highway Trust Fund.

Buttigieg acknowledged the importance of finding a long-term funding solution and noted that the federal fuel tax hasn’t been increased since 1993, and the Highway Trust Fund hasn’t been fully solvent since 2008.

“Looking forward, we also know the gas tax isn’t a long-term solution anyway, given what’s happening with the fuel economy and electrification,” Buttigieg said. “So I don’t think that’s where the energy is going to be in Washington or the administration. What we do know is that we have to come up with revenue.”

Knowing revenue is needed is one thing but identifying a solution all can agree on is another. A vehicle-miles-traveled tax is often floated as a possibility but also draws concerns regarding privacy and how it would be implemented.

The current highway funding plan is set to expire Sept. 30.

“There are so many possibilities on the table,” Buttigieg said. “Even some of the principles are on the table. What I mean by that is that a principle like the user-pay principle isn’t the only way that some members of Congress are thinking of, while it is certainly very important to a lot of members.

“If we’re committed to that view … some kind of road usage assessment is going to be necessary, some sort of vehicle-miles-traveled approach. The problem with that is nobody has been able to present a version of that which fully addresses the privacy concerns and technical issues. But we certainly see some things being done, especially on the commercial side, that demonstrate we could move in that direction.”

No matter which direction lawmakers choose to go, Buttigieg said there are some attributes a good plan must have.

“We’re very open minded,” he said. “What we know is that it has to be sustainable. It has to be predictable. It has to be defensible. And in an evolving transportation system, it’s got to be set up in a way that’s affordable.”

In a letter to the Biden administration in January, OOIDA said that many of its members remain skeptical that a VMT system is the solution to the highway funding problems. LL