Opinion

What next? Quit fixing roads?

An editorial from The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Like most states, West Virginia faces a dilemma caused by bitter partisan gridlock in Congress. Highway construction projects could be halted and workers laid off if Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill don’t shore up the federal Highway Trust Fund before it runs dry in August.

Ever since America’s interstate highway system was launched in the 1950s, the fund has been sustained by a federal fuel tax — currently 18.4 cents a gallon for gasoline and 24.4 cents for diesel. But more-efficient cars and less travel have crimped the flow of revenue that Washington shares with states. The fund is projected to go broke in August, which would force administrators to slash payments to states.

Like nearly everything else in Washington, this topic has become a political football. Previously, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., was expected to induce Republicans to support a compromise cure — but Cantor’s defeat by a tea party extremist makes a solution “utterly impossible,” according to the chief of the Tire Industry Association.

“With the tea party flexing muscles,” Roy Littlefield said, “there is no way tea party-affiliated legislators will negotiate or vote for a bill. What they will fight for is highway and bridge privatization. When you own a road or bridge, you expect to get a return on your investment.  You charge a toll, or you decrease maintenance.”

Littlefield said 6,300 bridges and 800 miles of U.S. highway already have been privatized.

President Obama wants to raise the gas tax to replenish the highway fund. In a speech beside a dilapidated Washington bridge, he sneered at the partisan stalemate that is blocking a solution. “I haven’t heard a good reason why they haven’t acted,” he said. “It’s not like they’ve been busy with other stuff…

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