Former DOT Chief Card Eyes Vehicle Miles Tax as Officials Weigh Infrastructure Needs

AASHTO Journal, 24 October 2014

Andrew Card, a former U.S. transportation secretary and White House chief of staff, told a “Fix My Commute” conference Oct. 21 that users of the national highway system should pay for the infrastructure as much as possible, perhaps with taxes focused on miles traveled and vehicle weights.

Card was among several current and former political leaders to address a daylong event that launched the Washington Post’s “America Answers” live streaming video series. Vice President Joseph Biden, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell also spoke.

Since Card headed the Department of Transportation under President George H.W. Bush in 1992-93 and the Post event was about congestion and infrastructure problems, he was asked what his goals would be if he were now heading the DOT, and how to achieve them.

“My priority if I were secretary of transportation again would really be to mitigate congestion” in the movement of both people and goods, he said. That would give people more disposable income from less wasted fuel, could make them happier by reducing their time spent stuck in bad commutes and would curb road rage, Card added.

“Our transportation system should be, to the extent possible, user-financed,” he said, adding the nation needs better ways of determining who the actual users are and measuring their impact on the system.

To finance improvements, “probably we should think in terms of how many miles you travel,” said Card, and about how much weight a vehicle puts onto roads. He said most congestion occurs where heavy commercial trucks mingle on the same roads as passenger cars, and suggested separating trucks with more use of off-peak cargo deliveries and truck-only lanes or roads.

Rendell, a co-chairman of the infrastructure advocacy group Building America’s Future, proposed specific ways to increase funds for transportation projects.

“We need to invest in our own growth,” said Rendell. He proposed that states be allowed to toll existing highways, and urged Congress to double the size of the DOT’s popular and low-cost TIFIA loan program. And he said Congress should remove caps now in place for private activity bonds to increase the flow of private funds into infrastructure.

Biden told the group the decline of U.S. transportation routes and ports compared with other nations “is just not acceptable,” and said that is why President Obama proposed a four-year, $302 billion “Grow America Act” to boost spending on highway, transit and rail networks.

Foxx also touted that administration plan, and said people suffering in their commutes can help push Congress to pass a new transportation bill.

“Over the last year, I’ve traveled to 40 states. And in most of those places, I’ve been urging folks to raise their voices on this issue,” Foxx said. “Tell your congressman when the bus is late. Call your senator when the traffic is costing you valuable time and productivity. Raise your voice.”

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