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‘Mayor Pete’ pledges $165 billion for highway trust fund

Buttigieg would double the size of "BUILD" grant program. Credit: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

Pete Buttigieg has pledged a $165 billion injection into the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) to keep it solvent through 2029 if he’s elected president of the United States.

The pledge was part of the Democratic presidential candidate’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan released Friday. It calls for potentially replacing fuel taxes – HTF’s primary funding source – with a user fee-based system such as a vehicle-miles-traveled fee “with appropriate privacy protections that is already being piloted by states,” according to the plan. “Within such a system, discounted rates can be offered on a sliding scale based on income.”

Federal fuel taxes haven’t been raised since 1993. With vehicles becoming more fuel efficient, the HTF, which pays for most of the nation’s highway programs, will be exhausted by 2022, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The agency points out that spending from the HTF has exceeded revenues in almost every year since 2001.

“Sustaining it will require continued transfers from the general fund, reduced spending on highways and transit programs, increases in existing taxes on highway users, new taxes credited to the fund or some combination of those approaches,” CBO noted in a recent report.

If elected, Buttigieg – who is running a distant fourth behind Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren according to national polls – plans to double the size of the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) infrastructure grant program to $2 billion annually and create a $3 billion yearly grant program to help states pursue regional and national projects. He would also “immediately finalize” the National Multimodal Freight Network, which the Trump administration recently revived for public comment.

Buttigieg would also create a $50 billion grant program to be used to repair half of the estimated 47,000 bridges that are structurally deficient by 2030, according to his plan, with funding prioritized for the most unsafe bridges.

Emphasizing the failure of the railroad industry to fully adopt positive train control (PTC) technology despite a 2015 mandate by Congress, Buttigieg would require all railroads to have PTC installed and operating by 2023. “Pete will also improve collaboration between Amtrak and the freight railroads so that passenger trains do not interfere with freight operations and freight railroads deliver the priority treatment to passenger trains that our existing laws require,” his plan states.

On the maritime side, Buttigieg’s plan would make funding available through BUILD and an “American Clean Energy Bank” to give ports additional resources for “maintenance and modernization, streamline freight transportation to and from ports and establish Clean Air Programs for ports.” He also supports preventing taxes collected for maintenance dredging from being diverted from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

Buttigieg believes investing in electric vehicles (EVs) “is a tool both to combat climate change and to drive manufacturing job growth,” and would provide $6 billion in grants and loans through his Clean Energy Bank for states and cities to partner with private companies and unions on installing publicly available charging infrastructure “to power millions of new EVs.”

He said his administration would work with states to ensure electricity rates “incentivize the expansion of charging infrastructure.” At least 40% of the funds will be available for projects in multi-unit dwellings and economically disadvantaged communities, according to his plan.

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.