Passing Zone

Will Highway Trust Fund Run Dry in 5 Years?

The Congressional Budget Office now projects that the Highway Trust Fund will be insolvent by the end of 2021.

February 8, 2016

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Image: U.S. Department of Transportation
Image: U.S. Department of Transportation

The Congressional Budget Office now projects, based on a new 10-year estimate of Highway Trust Fund spending and revenue, that “the country's principal infrastructure investment stream will run dry in 2021,” points out an article posted in the AASHTO Journal for Feb. 5.

What’s more, the author notes, “unless Congress provides more funding it could rack up a $108 billion cumulative deficit through 2026.”

CBO’s January 2016 Baseline Chart projects that at the start of 2021, the HTF will have a $13 billion balance. At the end of that year, the balance is indicated not by a figure, but a footnote indicator.

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The footnote itself states that “The memorandum to this table shows the cumulative shortfall of fund balances, assuming spending levels consistent with levels contained in CBO's January baseline. Those levels are estimated on the basis of spending that would occur if obligations from the fund each year were equal to the obligation limitations enacted for 2016, adjusted for projected inflation. Those amounts are lower than the amounts authorized by the FAST Act [the 5-year highway bill signed into law in December, 2015].

“The illustration won't surprise transportation investment advocates who have long urged Congress to lock in a sustainable source of revenue for the trust fund that could grow as needed to cover its authorized spending levels,” observes the author of the AASHTO Journal article.

The article adds that AASHTO Executive Director Bud Wright said the CBO projection illustrates the inherent flaw in how Congress chose to fund the FAST Act.

"Perhaps the Fast Act's major weakness is that it did not lock in sufficient revenues for the Highway Trust Fund beyond a few years," Wright said. "It kicks the funding question farther down the road, but as the CBO shows it is no lasting solution to our investment needs.

"There are many good things about the new law, especially the program certainty it provides over five years so that state departments of transportation and other agencies can implement long-term plans,” Wright continued. “But its funding constraints will in a few short years push the nation right back to where we were last year– grappling with how to pay our transportation system's bills."

Related: Highway Bill Signed by President Obama

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