Upgrading America’s mass transit system, repairing its aging highways and reducing gridlock will require an increase in the federal gasoline tax of at least 7 cents per gallon, according to a report released Wednesday.
The two-year study by the American Public Transit Assn. calls on the federal government to boost its annual transportation appropriations from the current $3 billion, an amount that has remained unchanged since 1981, to about $11 billion.
“Without federal support, in many states there would be no public transportation,” said Robert R. Kiley, chairman of both the Transit 2000 Task Force and New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
“I don’t believe we can solve the transportation problem in this country until we look at it in a national sense,” said Carmen E. Turner, general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority who also was a member of the task force.
But Transportation Department spokesman Robert Marx said that Transportation Secretary Samuel K. Skinner would not support an increase in the gasoline tax, currently 9 cents per gallon with 1 cent earmarked for mass transit.
“Secretary Skinner feels the same way as the President. No new taxes,” Marx said. “He has encouraged states to increase their gas taxes and encouraged them to use other methods and devices to increase their transportation funding, such as toll roads and lotteries.”
Kiley noted that the proposed tax hike would require support from both Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress and probably could not be considered until after the 1990 congressional elections.
“I’m encouraged about what I’ve heard from Congress,” Kiley said. He acknowledged, however, that “it’s going to be really tough because the President said there will be no new taxes (and) I don’t think the leadership of Congress wants to take the initiative . . . unless they have a clear signal from the White House.”
Kiley said that virtually all of the proceeds from a gas tax hike would finance capital investments, with about half earmarked for maintainence of existing facilities and the rest for expansion.
Jack R. Gilstrap, executive vice president of the national transit trade group and former general manager of the Southern California Rapid Transit District, said that the problems with public transportation are nearing crisis proportions.
“This is a difficult time to be talking about tax increases,” he said. “But there are more and more people becoming aware that the infrastructure of the nation is in bad shape, and it’s becoming a threat to our economy.”
Citing recent suggestions that America’s defense spending will be reduced, freeing up funds for domestic needs, Gilstrap said that commerce relies heavily on efficient transportation.