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T&I hearing with Buttigieg explores Highway Trust Fund alternatives, IIJA delays

Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg faced a range of questions from members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee during a June 27 hearing titled Oversight of the Department of Transportation’s Policies and Programs and Fiscal Year 2025 Budget Request.

T&I Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO)

During his opening remarks, Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO) noted the recent passage of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act as a key step toward maintaining the aviation industry’s “Gold Standard,” listing the FAA passage as one of the main achievements of the T&I committee as it pivots to address highway construction funding.

“Now that the committee has completed its work on FAA Reauthorization, and has passed legislation out of committee to authorize the Coast Guard, reauthorize our nation’s pipeline safety programs, and a water bill, we must begin to contemplate the next surface transportation bill.”

Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg

Chairman Graves expressed less enthusiasm with the on-the-ground impacts of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), legislation that directed $661 billion dollars to the DOT.

“I remain concerned about the slow pace at which the department is distributing IIJA funds,” Graves said. “Despite having received more than $364 billion since IIJA’s enactment, DOT has obligated a little more than half, and outlaid only 27 percent of the available funds. We’re not seeing the realization of the project benefits that were advertised following IIJA’s enactment.”

Graves noted that other T&I witnesses had testified that the delays have led to ballooning costs, meaning grant recipients must choose between absorbing additional expenses or abandoning projects entirely. He also suggested finding alternatives to cover the costs for infrastructure investments.

“We’re going to have to address the Highway Trust Fund’s funding challenges,” he said, adding that the Congressional Budget Office has suggested the Highway Trust Fund will become insolvent in 2028 and could face a $274 billion shortfall over the next decade. “We must maintain that ‘user pays’ principle and find some solutions for putting the HTF on a more sustainable fiscal path.”

Graves said DOT can help by more aggressively implementing its alternative funding pilot program, which has fallen behind schedule.

Rep. Garrett Graves (R-LA)

Rep. Garrett Graves (R-LA) pressed Buttigieg on the “growing deficiency” of the Highway Trust Fund, noting that the current rate was set in 1993 and has not been changed.

“I won’t claim to have a magic solution on the Highway Trust Fund, but I join you in being concerned about it,” Buttigieg said. “I think by the time of the 2026 potential vote on a future authorization, that question will really come to a head. Congress will need to decide whether the user pays principle is the future or whether to continue turning to other sources of funding to fund our roads.”

Rep. Tracey Mann (R-KS) asked about the growing presence of electric vehicles on our nation’s rose, and the outsized impact heavier vehicles have on pavement.

“In my mind, it’s imperative that we maintain our nation’s highways and roads so our economies and supply chains can thrive – I think we can all agree on that,” Mann said before asking if the DOT has considered how electric vehicles are impacting the nation’s roads and how all road users can be made to pay their fair share.

Buttigieg noted the research being done at the Turner Fairbank Highway Research Center in Virginia aims to bring data to these discussions, while admitting pavement durability was one of his favorite topics.

“We’re conscious that as we move toward an increasingly electric future, the gas tax model will not be sufficient to capture the principle a user pays, nor has it been sufficient for some time just to keep pace with demand,” Buttigieg said. “By the time of the next reauthorization Congress and the country will face a choice about whether to remain committed to the ‘user pays’ principle, in which case there will have to be some revenue source that can equitably collect from EVs the same way that if you have a gas car, you’re paying the gas tax, or be willing to set aside that principle.”

Buttigieg said the “user pays” principle was already being altered de facto through general fund transfers from Congress to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent, but he did not see it as a “considered decision.”

“I think it’s just a measure Congress has had to make to make ends meet,” he said.

Rep. Mike Collins (R-GA)

Rep. Mike Collins (R-GA) continued the EV line of questioning, noting a $400 billion road maintenance backlog across the country and raising his concerns that there won’t be a diesel engine available to meet the administrative requirements set to kick in later this decade.

Read about Rep. Collins’ visit to CPI’s Auburn asphalt plant.

Collins also noted that electric tractor-trailers weigh in at 32,000 pounds — 15,000 more than diesel engine trucks — meaning to comply with load restrictions, trucking companies will need an additional truck for every six loads in the future.

Rep. Aaron Bean (R-FL)

Rep. Aaron Bean (R-FL) asked how we are going to pay for roads as more users are avoiding the gas tax through electric vehicles, which may simultaneously damage the roads at a higher clip.

“We’re working with Congress on how to make sure the Highway Trust Fund has adequate sources of revenue knowing that receipts from the gas tax have been declining for some time,” Buttigieg said, adding that there are potential options to bring EVs into revenue collection via vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fees.

June 27 Hearing: Oversight of the Department of Transportation’s Policies and Programs and Fiscal Year 2025 Budget Request
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