Ex-Transportation chief ties gas tax increase to ‘big, bold’ infrastructure vision

Sources: Portland Cement Association, Skokie, Ill.; CP staff

With candor that marked his tenure as U.S. Transportation Secretary (February 2009–June 2013) and in Congress (1995–2009, R-IL), Ray LaHood told cement and concrete interests: “I believe that the time has come for America to say we need to be number one again, we need to fix up our bridges that are falling down, we need to fix up our roadways, and we need to raise the gas tax 10 cents per gallon.”

LaHood delivered the keynote, “The Future of Transportation and Infrastructure,” for the 2013 Concrete Sustainability Hub (CSHub) Showcase, September 25-26 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Pointing out that the federal gas tax hasn’t been raised from 18.3 cents/gallon since 1993—when half of the increase went to deficit reduction—he also called for indexing the tax to inflation. If such policy had been implemented 20 years ago, he noted, “We wouldn’t be having this debate today about how we are going to pay for all the things we need.”

More than 120 cement and concrete industry representatives convened in Cambridge, Mass., for the “Building for LIFE: Life-cycle thinking, Innovation, Fiscal responsibility, and Environmental leadership” CSHub showcase. Following LaHood’s address, researchers focused on their work to surrounding two key issues for infrastructure investment: Cost and environmental impact of the nation’s system of streets and highways. They find that pavements’ roughness and stiffness affect car and truck fuel economy. If a pavement deflects or bends slightly under traffic loads, vehicles run in a slight depression that increases fuel consumption; stiffer roadway slabs mean less rolling resistance and better fuel economy.

To address infrastructure funding issues, MIT researchers have developed data to help determine the real cost of pavement during its useful life. Life-cycle cost analysis is a tool used to assess the total cost throughout the life of a construction project. It includes both initial construction and the future cost of maintenance and rehabilitation. Hub researchers have demonstrated the importance of accounting for the uncertainty in future material prices in assessing life-cycle costs.