Pew Trust Report Analyzes Local, State and Federal Roles in Transportation Funding

AASHTO Journal, 26 September 2014

A new report by Pew Charitable Trusts finds that surface transportation investment through 2011 was declining at all levels of government.

Paying for a transportation system in need is becoming more difficult at all levels of government, according to a new Pew Charitable Trusts report that offers four principles for public policymakers to help guide transportation investment decisions.

The study found that the ways in which the U.S. invests in transportation at local, state and federal levels has faced significant challenges over the last decade largely due to “the fact that gas and vehicle taxes, major sources of surface transportation revenue, have been declining in real terms in recent years because of trends such as improved fuel efficiency and changing driving habits, as well as decades of stagnant tax rates.”

The report recommends that as officials consider transportation funding options, they consider principles to help “weigh the trade-offs among approaches.”

Falling revenue forces hard choices

According to Pew, “policymakers should strive to obtain the most from every transportation dollar spent. No clear consensus exists on how to achieve greater efficiency in transportation funding, but ideas include increasing the use of competitive federal grants and cost-benefit analysis to evaluate proposals, and adjusting the federal matching rate for transportation grants to encourage investment in high-value projects.”

Financing is not funding

The Pew report states, “Financing options, while important tools for building transportation infrastructure, are not solutions to the challenges described in this report. Borrowed money must be repaid with interest.”

Rethink the roles of all levels of government

While the report makes no recommendation on how the roles should change, it suggests that “despite disagreement on what the federal role should be, there is widespread sentiment that it needs to be re-evaluated. Whatever form it might take, any rethinking of the federal role should be coordinated with other levels of government.”

Partnership is key to confronting challenges

The report suggests that a greater conversation should take place regarding the needs of the various local, state and federal governments. “The various levels should communicate with one another and operate as partners. States and localities need to know what to expect from the federal government so they can plan their infrastructure investments,” the report said.

The full report is available at

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