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Source: Indianapolis Star
Author: David Holt
(U.S.) Opinion: Nation needs long-term plan to pay for roads
Original Article

Opinion: Indianapolis Star

INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana has earned the designation as the Crossroads of America because of its considerable network of roads, bridges and highways. But without a long-term plan for funding the nation's transportation infrastructure, what the state has spent decades building could be in jeopardy.

The 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal fuel tax, which makes up the majority of federal transportation funding, isn't tied to inflation and hasn't increased since 1993. As fuel consumption decreases and construction costs rise, the fuel tax has become a strained funding source for our national transportation network.

The current law authorizing the collection of the tax and establishing transportation funding was scheduled to expire Sept. 30, but Congress approved a bill earlier in the month to extend funding until the end of March 2012. It's the eighth such extension, and yet another stopgap in place of a long-term solution.

It's clear we must address our highway needs in a more thoughtful manner, and two solutions have emerged in Congress. Republicans in the House, lead by Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., argue that federal transportation spending should be brought in-line with fuel tax revenues. But since the fuel tax generates only $25 billion to $30 billion per year, this solution would result in funding cuts.

Mica has authored a six-year, $230 billion bill that would set funding at $25 billion to $30 billion per year, which is a 33 percent cut, and encourage public-private partnerships to make up the difference.

In the Senate, Public Works Committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Ok., are championing a two-year, $109 billion bill that keeps funding at current levels, but won't establish the long-term funding solution needed to support infrastructure investment and development. Boxer's bill also includes a $12 billion funding shortfall that new revenues would have to replace.

Both solutions are inadequate for ensuring Indiana's transportation network remains a strong economic engine for growth. Indiana needs a forward-looking solution that establishes guaranteed funding that logistics and construction firms need before hiring new workers or breaking ground on major projects.

Although funding may be inadequate, we will not make up for years of underfunding, diversions and the approval process overnight. We need a clear path that will strengthen our infrastructure investment in a fiscally responsible way while exploring all options.

To allow budget shortfalls for infrastructure would be shortsighted and could threaten our nation's future viability. Because of its significant impact on the future of Indiana's logistics industry, Conexus also has been working toward consensus between federal and state policymakers, trade associations and the private sector on ways to provide additional resources for infrastructure funding. It's our hope that Hoosiers will understand the importance of the debate regarding Indiana's transportation system and engage in finding a solution that will sustain and grow our nation's network.

Holt is vice president of operations and business development at Conexus Indiana.