Lessons from the Highway Trust Fund Applied to a National Infrastructure Bank

In 1956 the Highway Trust Fund was created through the vision and political leadership of President Dwight Eisenhower and the President’s Advisory Committee chaired by Lucius Clay. Despite the original purpose of just funding the Interstate system, the Highway Trust Fund has evolved to become the Nation’s primary funding source for transportation infrastructure projects. However, we have reach a point that the Trust Fund supply is far smaller than the demand by State Departments of Transportation. 

The American Society of Civil Engineers’ annual infrastructure report card gave the U.S. infrastructure system a D rating and estimated a funding deficit of $739.5 billion over the next five years for transportation assets alone [1]. This rating comes at a time of economic recession in the U.S. and growing competitiveness of emerging countries in global markets. It is undeniable that the U.S. infrastructure system has provided a foundation and competitive advantage that allowed economic growth during the 20th century, but the diminishing quality of this foundation is an issue that must be addressed sooner rather than later. At the root cause of our country’s infrastructure troubles lies inadequate funding for the rehabilitation and further expansion of our nation’s system.

My paper will address the question of where additional infrastructure funding can come from and what type of political leadership is required. There has been much talk in recent years of setting up a private or public National Infrastructure Bank. Though a National Infrastructure Bank could be a viable solution for increased revenue streams for infrastructure and greater private sector involvement, there are major political and institutional barriers that must be overcome. I will look back to the political environment of 1956 and the steps taken by President Eisenhower to start a Highway Trust Fund to see what lessons can be applied today if we were to create a National Infrastructure Bank.

-Jacob Tzegaegbe, Georgia Institute of Technology

[1] “Home | Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.” Home | Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. American Society of Civil Engineers, n.d. Web. 07 Sept. 2012. <http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/&gt;.

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One Response to Lessons from the Highway Trust Fund Applied to a National Infrastructure Bank

  1. johnadearborn says:

    Hello Jacob,

    During my internship in the House of Representatives this past spring, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012 (H.R. 7) was proposed and debated for months, before a different transportation reauthorization bill was ultimately passed. If you’re interested in looking at current challenges to creation of a National Infrastructure Bank given the current makeup of Congress, I’d suggest looking at the plight of the various transportation reauthorization bills proposed this year. There was a lot of fighting both between parties and within parties on these bills, as well as going to the deadline more than once (reminiscent of the debt ceiling fight).

    Looking forward to hearing more about your work on this! It’s definitely an important subject given the need for more infrastructure funding.

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