On Monday, January 13th at the TRB Annual Meeting, I attended a session entitled "Greener in More Ways: Economically Sustainable Funding and Financing Opportunities." In truth, this session seemed to have two main topics: funding for sustainability and sustainable funding. Through five very different presentations, this session highlighted some of the tensions faced by transportation professionals as they balance both financial and environmental goals.
Transportation funding is increasingly important as agencies work to both mitigate and combat the impacts of climate change. However, as vehicles become more fuel efficient and electric vehicles become a more significant component of the transportation ecosystem, fuel taxes are no longer a reliable source of transportation funding. The Highway Trust Fund, which is largely funded by fuel taxes, is on track to be insolvent by 2022.
It is clear that we must design sustainable funding strategies, such as mileage based user fees, to ensure that all users of our public roads pay fees proportional to their utilization of roads. However, we must also ensure that these new systems are equitable and do not create undesirable disincentives. For example, fees that are too high may dissuade some from purchasing an electric vehicle. However, increased adoption of electric vehicles is an essential component of lowering emissions.
It is exciting to be part of these essential discussions about how we design policies and systems to work for the future here at TRB!