Speed Reads

A Touch of Gray

There's a bright side to the Highway Trust Fund's near depletion

There's a bright side to the Highway Trust Fund's near depletion

On Monday, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx tried to light a fire under Congress, reminding the gridlocked national legislature that if they don't find $18 billion in spare change by the end of August, the Highway Trust Fund could run out of money. This is bad news: An empty trust fund could stall more than 112,000 already ongoing infrastructure projects and unhelpfully affect almost 700,000 jobs, according to a White House economic analysis.

And that's just the ongoing projects. The U.S. needs more infrastructure projects, not fewer. "We have an infrastructure deficit in this country," Foxx said Monday. "We cannot meet the needs of a growing country and a growing economy by simply maintaining our current level of effort." He's right.

So what's the good news? The Highway Trust Fund — which pays for a lot of not just highway projects but bridge repairs and public transportation needs — is financed almost entirely through a dedicated federal gas tax. And thanks to more efficient cars (hybrids + federal mileage standards) and fewer Americans driving, U.S. motorists are buying less gas — with results this chart from The Washington Post demonstrates:

As Slate's Josh Voorhees notes, there's a simple, obvious solution to the funding shortfall — raising the gas tax, stuck at 18.4 cents a gallon since 1994 — and Washington won't touch it. Congress will have to do something, probably foolish. But let's take a moment to admire the silver lining: Using less gas is something every side of the political spectrum can celebrate.