In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act into law. This groundbreaking legislation advanced a bold, forward-looking national project to construct highways that would efficiently link cities, towns, and rural areas, ensuring essential connectivity and spurring economic growth. Today, we face fundamentally different transportation challenges. Yet our policies remain locked in an increasingly outdated post-World War II framework that is unable to address the needs of the 21st century. As a result, America’s surface transportation policy stands at a crossroads. The federal program, which supports state and local investments in highways, bridges, and public transportation systems, suffers from insufficient investment, a trust fund teetering on the brink of insolvency, and partisan gridlock. This is neither a recipe for success nor sustainable in the long term.
The ongoing debate over how to raise additional revenue for surface transportation programs often misses the deep connection between policy and funding. For years, transportation stakeholders have argued that new money would cure all ills. In reality, Congress has struggled to address funding shortfalls because there is a deficit of consensus on what the federal program should achieve. Developing a shared policy vision will not be easy. Without addressing policy differences, however, there is little chance of finding additional money for the next transportation bill.
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