U.S. Role in Highways Questioned, Answered

Photograph by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Construction workers in Los Angeles, California.

The determination to really, finally agree on a long-term plan for highway, waterways and rail improvements and figure out how to pay for them will be on display this week — regardless of whether President Barack Obama makes that perennial pitch in his State of the Union speech.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has supported raising the federal gasoline tax while opposing other levies, will convene a summit Wednesday to discuss the future of U.S. infrastructure.

Among those joining Chamber CEO Thomas Donohue will be Nick Akins, chief executive officer of American Electric Power Co., whose barges have been bottled up at times by broken locks; and Representative Bill Shuster, the new chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The title of one of the summit sessions, “A Fresh Look at the Federal Role — Do We Need Washington in Transportation?” is, probably not coincidentally, answered by the title of Shuster’s first hearing, called “The Federal Role in America’s Infrastructure.” The two events will overlap in the middle part of the day. Donohue will be among Shuster’s witnesses.

Shuster has said he wants to start work on a new surface transportation bill to succeed a two-year measure, passed last June, that didn’t close the widening gap between spending and gasoline-tax receipts. The Pennsylvania Republican has said there must be discussion of a gasoline-tax increase — and even a heretofore-dead-on-arrival tax on miles driven — with the Highway Trust Fund on a path toward insolvency, as cars get more
fuel efficient and drivers buy less gasoline.

The House committee’s agenda this year also includes a new Water Resources Development Act and reauthorizing Amtrak while also possibly forcing changes at the national passenger railroad.


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