Leaders of House and Senate infrastructure committees have asked U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to provide an update on why the U.S. DOT has missed an Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act deadline for action on a test of using vehicle-miles-traveled fees to bolster the Highway Trust Fund.

In a July 24 letter to Buttigieg, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) note that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) directs DOT to establish an advisory board for a nationwide vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) pilot program.

The IIJA directed DOT to set up a Federal System Funding Alternative Advisory Board within 90 days of the measure’s enactment. The IIJA was signed on Nov. 15, 2021, which meant a deadline sometime before the end of March 2022.

They asked Buttigieg to provide the requested information about the advisory board by Aug. 24. A DOT spokesperson said that the department will respond to the letter. The advisory board is to oversee an IIJA-authorized national VMT test. The law also authorized $50 million over five years for the test program. 

Its recommendations include “constructing the simplest implementation possible” for the envisioned nationwide fee program and measuring the fees’ “impact on administrative practices and cost.”  

In their letter, Carper and Graves said, “The motor fuel tax rate has remained unchanged for the past 30 years.

"Over this period, these taxes have lost significant purchasing power, while funding authorized from the HTF for federal-aid highway, highway safety and federal transit programs has more than tripled,” the letter states.

The lawmakers also said that “more fuel-efficient vehicles and the utilization of alternative fuel sources have further eroded” Highway Trust Fund receipts. 

They said that the gap between revenue flowing into the trust fund and expenditures from it has grown wider, as outlays outpaced income.

Carper and Graves also observed that over the years, Congress has transferred a total of $275 billion into the fund to ensure that it "remains solvent.”

New VMT Report

Also on July 24, the Eno Center for Transportation released a report on the envisioned national VMT Fee test program, with recommendations about the makeup of the advisory group and issues that should be addressed by the program.

“Time is of the essence,” the report’s authors say. They recommend that DOT put together the advisory group “as soon as possible.”

The Eno study added, “It is not a question of when the federal government will run out of time to find a solution, but how long  [stakeholders] can successfully supplement our user-pay system with general fund revenues.”

According to the report, interest in VMT fees began in the early 2000s. About a dozen states have run VMT-type pilot programs. 

A grant program funded in the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act helped give the concept a boost in many of those states.

Stephen E. Sandherr, Associated General Contractors of. America chief executive officer, said in a statement, “Unfortunately, the administration wants to pick and choose which parts of the [IIJA] they follow–like Buy America–and which parts they ignore, including the first step of this pilot, which is just to set up an advisory board.

“As this report makes clear, however, there will be serious consequences to the system we use to pay for highway and transportation construction if the Biden administration continues to ignore its legal obligations to move forward,” Sandherr added.