July editorial: This is out of control

Written by Bill Wilson, Editor-in-Chief
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President Biden’s call for a gas tax holiday is not the way to go following the passage of a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill tied to the gas tax.
California High Speed Rail Authority

A violently flipping car would most likely miss the country’s smallest guard rail system.

I was never a physics guru. In fact, I did not even take a high school class on the subject, but I still think the odds of a car out of control hitting a 3-ft-long by 3-ft-long by 3-ft-long barrier in the shape of a U are about the same as a long shot winning the Kentucky Derby. (Wait, that just happened, but you get my thinking).

It’s there protecting a steel cable that is one of many holding up a radio antenna by my house. It’s there to brace for the worst before the worst happens. The federal government does not always believe in this line of thinking. It would probably take four or five fatal accidents at the site of a non-guarded steel cable to get anyone on Capitol Hill to think something needed to be done. Then perhaps after years of lobbying and meetings and debating that guard rail system might be installed. It’s good that the U.S. DOT, FHWA, and state, county, and city DOTs do not react five or six times removed from the right time.
The Highway Trust Fund and its heavy dependency on the federal gas tax is a combination that has been spinning out of control for years. Vehicles with improved fuel efficiency and the grand entrance of the electric car into the Average Joe’s garage has crippled the federal gas tax for over a decade. What have lawmakers on the Hill done to prevent the preventable? Little to nothing. Yes, the Highway Trust Fund has not lost the feeling in its legs because somewhere funds have been found to fill the holes. Those holes, however, are now Stranger Things deep.

In late June President Biden proposed suspending the federal gas tax for three months to give the average American family (with the Joe that owns the electric car) a break. At stake is the strength of the recently passed infrastructure bill, which was supposed to swoop in and finally take care of some of the greatest rail infrastructure needs this country has ever seen. President Biden said he had the financial vitamins to keep the infrastructure bill healthy. Of course, there were no details behind that statement, which led many federal lawmakers to jump on the side of the fence that was against the gas tax suspension.

If a more proactive approach regarding the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund was taken say, a decade ago, we might not be at the mercy of a major White House magic trick. At one time a couple of states were studying a way to charge motorists by the mile. This would help collect from those avoiding the pump who also put wear and tear on roads and bridges. The right of privacy and other factors put the idea off to the side, and to my knowledge there has not been another alternative put on the table.
Biden’s gas tax holiday would not give anxiety a rest because it would pull $10 billion from the Highway Trust Fund. Somebody tell me the hiding spot for that amount of money. Defense? Social Security? Healthcare? Progress with the national debt? (Is that even real money?) At a time when zero line items on the national budget can afford a deduction our president thinks he can swoop in with mirrors and smoke.

If the federal gas tax was not the aorta of the Highway Trust Fund, perhaps we would not think twice about a gas tax holiday. However, there it is … ready to bleed out.

The next thing you know, three months turns into six months, which is about the time needed for major oil companies to ramp up production.
Is there an open seat on that violently flipping car?

Read more articles on track maintenance.

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