More than 50 years ago, President Dwight Eisenhower and Congress launched the largest road-building project in history with the interstate highway system. It might not have been rocket science or going to the moon, but it has had a profound impact on the United States.
Right along with the interstate road-building project came a funding mechanism for maintenance, the Highway Trust Fund. States could get revenue sharing from the federal government.
That could change dramatically in the next decade.
Almost all the funding for our roads and bridges comes from taxes on fuel, currently 18.4 cents a gallon on gasoline and 24.4 cents a gallon on diesel fuel. Americans pay billions of dollars to the Highway Trust Fund to build and maintain our transportation system.
But what happens when we are driving electric vehicles?
Although it is unlikely that electric and hybrid vehicles ever will exceed 20 percent of the vehicle population, we will see an increase in nonpetroleum-based vehicles on the road.
The new fuel economy rules require fleets to average more than 35 mpg in just a few years, something that might have seemed impossible a decade ago.
But with higher and higher miles per gallon, there will be less and less money for the Highway Trust Fund and for road building and repairs all across the country.
Meanwhile, pure electric cars will be making no contribution to the maintenance of the roads they use, and other vehicles will be paying far less in taxes.
It seems as if the Highway Trust Fund would be better off with all those gas guzzlers of yesterday. Those vehicles helped build the road and highway system.
Now is the time to consider alternative taxation to support our highway system. It's a discussion that should begin today, since Congress always seems to make less than wise choices at the last minute.
In a recession we naturally drive less, which also reduces fuel consumption and per-gallon taxes.
Between electric vehicles and the new fuel economy rules, there will be considerably less money going into the Highway Trust Fund for national and state transportation systems.
Imagine what would happen to the tobacco tax if everyone quit smoking.