U.S. surface transportation funding

Four years into the five-year Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, elected officials are grappling with how the nation will fund its aging infrastructure in the future.

With a newly divided federal-government, a bipartisan approach to addressing America’s infrastructure is an enormous opportunity—for the administration and both houses of Congress.

A robust federal infrastructure-package is doable—and it’s time to get it passed. Both parties have already shared plans to shore up and modernize infrastructure, and states are demonstrating innovation, especially when it comes to transportation. 

Are P3s the answer?
One potential solution to financing transportation infrastructure is public-private partnerships. The Administration's proposed $200 billion, 10-year infrastructure program may include investments through public-private partnerships. But, most suitable P3 projects must have a price tag of $1 billion or more to appeal to the profit-driven private sector, so P3s alone cannot shoulder the burden of filling the funding gap. Private sector participation is an answer, but it is not the only answer.

So, what is the answer?
America should diversify its transportation infrastructure funding and financing portfolio. The answer lies in identifying and dedicating public funding sources on the local, state and federal levels, raising the gas tax to ensure a healthier HTF, implementing tolling and P3s in places where appropriate, and approving sales tax increases or transportation tax measures in others.

It's important to note that most states prefer flexibility in the use of funding allocations, rather than grant programs. If grant programs are enacted, it’s better to establish a timeline for preparing and submitting proposals that should not be extended or lengthened, to give states a fair chance at funding.

Thoughts on federal infrastructure funding and the Highway Trust Fund can be found in this 2018 HNTB Viewpoint, authored by John Barton, PE, HNTB National DOT market sector leader and senior vice president. Barton also authored a Viewpoint in American City & County magazine, published July 2018, discussing approaches that can help improve the U.S. transportation system while ensuring that funds are spent effectively on priorities of greatest value.

HNTB expert

John Barton, PE, serves as HNTB's national DOT market sector leader and senior vice president. Barton works in collaboration with HNTB's offices across the nation to help develop and direct national strategy to enhance HNTB's services to state departments of transportation across the U.S. Barton's experience includes nearly 30 years at the Texas Department of Transportation, including his most recent role as deputy executive director, administration. 

Selected HNTB thought leadership
Selected media
Photo: Capital Beltway/I-495 HOT lanes in Virginia