PeachPundit– Seventh District Congressman Rob Woodall used the occasion if Gwinnett County’s Great Exchange to focus on transportation issues during a telephone town hall held Monday night, covering issues primarily relating to federal funding of highway and mass transit projects. He also polled those listening in for their opinion on several issues related to transportation planning and funding.

At the federal level, most transportation funding is paid for by the Highway Trust Fund, which in turn gets about $40 billion annually from the 18.4 cent per gallon federal excise tax on gasoline and diesel fuel. This user fee has not increased since 1993, which is part of the reason for an annual shortfall of between $10 and $15 billion between what is brought in, and what transportation planners believe is necessary to maintain the country’s transportation infrastructure.

Washington has used general fund revenue to make up the difference. This has led to a series of short term measures that don’t allow for long term project planning. The House Transportation Committee developed a six year transportation bill that focuses on enhancing the nation’s freight system, cutting red tape that delays construction projects, maximizing the value of transportation spending, and relieving congestion. Because of a reluctance to increase the excise tax on gas, the House and Senate have separate ways to pay for the difference, mostly revolving around changing the way international companies are taxed in the House version, or a one time tax on repatriation of foreign profits.

When Rep. Woodall asked those listening to the town hall whether they felt they were getting their money’s worth from the gax tax they were paying, 30% said yes, while 50% said no. Yet, when asked if they would approve of raising the gax tax, 65% said yes, to 35% saying no.

The congressman brought up two other reasons people might feel they weren’t getting their money’s worth from the Highway Trust Fund. The first was the amount of time and money needed to meet federal requirements, especially in the area of environmental protection. Pointing to the need to determine if the endangered Indiana Bat has its habitat in the path of construction projects in North Georgia–one solo bat has been found in the north Georgia mountains–he cited a project to widen GA 20 between GA 400 and I-575 being delayed by 4.5 years due to federal requirements.

The other reason people may not be confident the Highway Trust Fund is doing what it was supposed to is that in many cases, the fund spends money on transit projects, sidewalks, bike lanes, and other “complete streets” measures. He pointed out that if these projects were funded in a different way, there would be no need to find additional revenue to pay for roads and bridges.

When Congressman Woodall asked those listening to the call if they supported the use of Highway Trust Fund dollars for non-highway uses such as bike paths, sidewalks and transit, only 35% agreed, while 60% said funding should only to go roads and bridges. Furthermore, when asked where decisions about which transportation projects should be constructed should take place, only 2% said those decisions should be made at the federal level, 60% said they should be made at the state or regional level, and 30% said they should be made at the county or city level.

The Great Exchange on Transportation is an effort to find out what those who live and work in Gwinnett prefer for transportation options. Peach Pundit will be participating Thursday night as Charlie, Stefan, George and I talk transportation and take questions at the 1818 Club in Duluth. Details here. Then, we’ll have a Road Show at the Arena Tavern. As usual, we look forward to seeing some of you.

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