Gen. Barry McCaffrey on Tolls, VMT Charges and PPPs

Stopping off in Houston for a dinner hosted by the Bayou City’s chapter of the Society of American Military Engineers, retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey raised the pressing need to rethink highway infrastructure funding in an op-ed published Thursday in the Houston Chronicle.

In the piece, McCaffrey, now a member of the board of HTNB Corp., a leading design and engineering firm for transportation infrastructure, urges states seriously investigate funding alternatives such as tolling, PPPs and charges based on vehicle miles traveled to replace declining revenues from gasoline taxes–concepts that have been encouraged by Reason transportation analysts for some time. That they also come from a respected former government official who served in the Clinton administration shows that these ideas are not the sole purview of libertarians or conservatives.

McCaffrey writes:

While [Texas] ranks second in the country in both population and vehicle miles traveled, according to the Federal Highway Administration, Texas’ transportation spending ranks 17th on a per capita basis and 30th on a per-vehicle-mile-traveled basis.

This dilemma will grow during the next 25 years, as vehicle travel on Texas roads is projected to increase by 214 percent, and the population will increase by 64 percent while revenue from the gas tax will continue to decline with the advent of more fuel-efficient — and alternative-fuel — vehicles. Interstate 45 North in Houston already ranks No. 1 on the Texas Department of Transportation’s Top 100 list of congested roadways.

While McCaffrey’s comments primarily address the huighway funding situation in Texas, the Lone Star State is hardly unique, as Sam Staley blogged here earlier Thursday.

Sam cited highlights from the Texas Transportation Institute’s 2010 Urban Mobility Report, and it’s likely that McCaffrey had the same in mind when he noted:

So-called “patch-and-pray” approaches must end. Texas should be a leader in prioritizing transportation infrastructure and leveraging alternative funding mechanisms.
In part, that means lifting the moratorium on TxDOT’s authority to develop concessionaire agreements.

Utilizing toll revenue and partnering with the private sector through public-private partnerships are proven alternatives and — while not the answer in every case — should be considered as an option, supplementing declining public transportation funding when possible….All alternatives — multiple sources of funding for multiple modes of funding — should be on the table, from higher gas taxes, property and sales taxes to a state infrastructure bank, Vehicle Miles Traveled user fees and tolls.