Key Issues > Funding the Nation's Surface Transportation System
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Funding the Nation's Surface Transportation System

The nation's surface transportation system is critical to the economy and affects the daily life of most Americans. However, the costs to repair and upgrade the nation's surface transportation system to meet current and future demands are estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars, and a sustainable solution to funding surface transportation has yet to be found.

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Funding the nation’s surface transportation program has been designated high risk for several reasons, including:

  • Motor fuel and other highway use taxes that support the Highway Trust Fund—the major source of federal surface transportation funding—are eroding. Federal motor fuel tax rates have not increased since 1993, and the 18.4 cent per gallon tax on gasoline enacted in 1993 is worth about 11.5 cents today. This trend will continue with the introduction and adoption of more fuel efficient and alternative fuel vehicles in the years ahead.
  • In March 2012, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that over $100 billion in additional revenues would be required to maintain current spending levels plus inflation through 2022.
  • Congress transferred more than $34 billion in general revenues to the Highway Trust Fund from fiscal year 2008 to 2010, and in 2012, appropriated an additional $18.8 billion in general revenues for fiscal years 2013 and 2014. This approach has effectively broken the link between highway taxes paid and benefits received by users and may not be sustainable given competing demands and the federal government’s growing fiscal challenge.
  • A sustainable solution to funding surface transportation is based on balancing revenues to and spending from the Highway Trust Fund. New revenues from users can come only from taxes and fees, and ultimately major changes in transportation spending, revenues, or both will be needed to bring the two into balance.
Looking for our recommendations? Click on any report to find each associated recommendation and its current implementation status.

Surface Transportation:

Financing Program Could Benefit from Increased Performance Focus and Better Communication
Published: Jun 21, 2012. Publicly Released: Jul 23, 2012.

Highway Infrastructure:

Federal-State Partnership Produces Benefits and Poses Oversight Risks
Published: Apr 26, 2012. Publicly Released: May 29, 2012.


Key Issues and Management Challenges
Published: Mar 29, 2012. Publicly Released: Mar 29, 2012.

Highway Trust Fund:

All States Received More Funding Than They Contributed in Highway Taxes from 2005 to 2009
Published: Sep 8, 2011. Publicly Released: Oct 12, 2011.

Surface Transportation:

Restructured Federal Approach Needed for More Focused, Performance-Based, and Sustainable Programs
Published: Mar 6, 2008. Publicly Released: Mar 6, 2008.

More Reports

Surface Transportation:

Actions Needed to Improve Documentation of Key Decisions in the TIGER Discretionary Grant Program
Published: May 28, 2014. Publicly Released: May 28, 2014.

Fiscal Year 2013 Agreed-Upon Procedures:

Excise Tax Distributions to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund and the Highway Trust Fund
Published: Dec 9, 2013. Publicly Released: Dec 9, 2013.


Highway Trust Fund Obligations, Fiscal Years 2009 to 2011
Published: Jan 16, 2013. Publicly Released: Jan 16, 2013.

Highway Trust Fund:

Pilot Program Could Help Determine the Viability of Mileage Fees for Certain Vehicles
Published: Dec 13, 2012. Publicly Released: Jan 8, 2013.

Fiscal Year 2012 Agreed-Upon Procedures:

Excise Tax Distributions to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund and the Highway Trust Fund
Published: Nov 7, 2012. Publicly Released: Nov 7, 2012.


Fiscal Year 2011 Agreed-Upon Procedures for Excise Tax Distributions to the Highway Trust Fund
Published: Nov 3, 2011. Publicly Released: Nov 3, 2011.

Surface Transportation:

Applying Agreed-Upon Procedures:

Fiscal Year 2010 Highway Trust Fund Excise Taxes
Published: Nov 4, 2010. Publicly Released: Nov 4, 2010.

Highway Trust Fund:

Nearly All States Received More Funding Than They Contributed in Highway Taxes Since 2005
Published: Jun 30, 2010. Publicly Released: Aug 3, 2010.

Surface Transportation Security:

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  • portrait of Susan Fleming
    • Susan Fleming
    • Director, Physical Infrastructure
    • (202) 512-2834