Young favors $60 billion for roads by 2009 (Photo courtesy of Office of Rep. Don Young)

To help provide more revenue for this year's highway and transit reauthorization, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) says he supports increasing the federal gasoline tax to account for inflation.

Young says he would like to see highway funding climb to $60 billion in 2009, the last year of the planned new bill. He told ENR Feb. 12 that in previous legislation, "We made a mistake by not indexing. We want to index." He says that inflation has eroded the value of the fuels taxes, which last were increased in 1993.

Industry and state officials estimate that indexing the fuels tax could raise $15 billion over the six-year span of the new surface transportation bill. Indexing would raise even more revenue if it were done retroactively to "catch up" for effects of past years' inflation.

Young, whose committee will take the lead in drafting the successor to the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, also has talked about a straight increase in the gas tax, now 18.4 cents per gallon. But the White House has clearly stated its opposition to that move.

Young says, "That's going to be one of the battles. If we can't do it that way [through a gas tax hike], we've got to figure out a way to get some other form of revenue generation."

The Alaska says that $44 billion is the minimum amount highways should get in the last year of TEA-21's replacement. That figure, he adds, is what's needed just to maintain the road network's current condition and performance. "We can't get anything less than $44 [billion]. I would like to get 60 [billion]."

He also says he wants to try to get a measure through the full House by Sept. 1. But he adds that he won't rush action, preferring to let pressure build for the legislation. "If we don't have [the funding] we think is necessary, we're going to let the heat grow on [the bill], because we need a certain amount of dollars. I'm not going to pass a bill out of here with $29.5 [billion for highways]."

Young says aviation reauthorization probably will move before the highway-transit measure. "That very likely will occur." He says that the aviation bill is "not as large" as the TEA-21 successor and "may not have as many challenges, as far as money goes." But Young adds that the aviation legislation won't be an easy task: "We have real challenges to make sure the airlines are solvent."

Young's comments came after the organizational meeting of his panel, which with 75 members is the House's largest. "This is a big year for this committee," he told the panel, noting that it has several big measures on its agenda.

The committee's top Democrat, James Oberstar of Minnesota, says that this session it could deal with bills that authorize $500 billion over the next several years. He lists $350 billion for highways and transit, $50 billion for aviation, $20 billion for water infrastructure, $4 billion to $5 billion for Corps of Engineers projects, and $80 billion for high-speed rail.