Fred Wagner, an environmental attorney and partner in the law firm of Venable LLP, assesses the chances for a new bill that seeks to fund infrastructure improvements — as well as the prospects for any progress toward that end this year.
From a political standpoint, the chances of passing an infrastructure bill are “still very negative,” says Wagner. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario whereby Republicans and Democrats join to pass a funding measure that would give the incumbent a victory heading into the November presidential election. The need to authorize additional emergency funds for COVID-19 relief provides another potential barrier to the success of the current bill in the House of Representatives, or a similar one in the Senate.
The so-called INVEST in America Act is actually a hybrid measure that addresses multiple requirements beyond just highway and bridge construction, including the promotion of electrification and acts that bolster climate resiliency. It proposes a significant amount of money for commercial transportation, but even more for public transit and environmental efforts. Wagner says transportation has always had to compete with other interests for limited funds. But now the competition has intensified, as legislators work toward the creation of improved public transit and “livable, walkable communities.”
Don’t count on the Highway Trust Fund, based on a tax on gasoline sales, to continue providing the lion’s share of transportation funding, Jorge says. Other methods will need to be found, including the possibility of a user fee tied not to gas purchases, but actual vehicle miles traveled. Such an idea has already been tested in a few locations around the U.S., and is expected to gain more traction as the details of applying it, especially the issue of privacy, are ironed out.
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