Former Bush appointee Mary Peters now lobbies for Cintra-Zachry, public private parnerships and big brother vehicle mileage tax
By David Hendricks
SAN MARCOS — With gasoline tax revenue plummeting as people drive less and vehicles become more fuel efficient, federal and state agencies must find a new tax to maintain and expand the nation's highway and road system, former U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said here Friday.
Peters said she favored a vehicle miles tax, or VMT, as a replacement to the decades-old gasoline tax, not as a supplement to it.
“The technology exists for it,” Peters told about 400 people attending the Austin-San Antonio Corridor Growth Summit at the San Marcos Convention Center.
A vehicle miles tax would be levied by navigational devices in vehicles. Mileage information would be read by other devices at gasoline stations. The tax rate could be adjusted to higher rates for driving in high-traffic corridors and/or for larger, less-fuel efficient vehicles.
The only problem with the VMT technology involves privacy, she acknowledged, since personal information about trips, times and dates would be recorded.
“Americans are driving less, using less fuel and therefore contributing fewer revenues to transportation even at a time when our needs are increasing substantially,” said Peters, who was transportation secretary from 2006 to 2009 under then-President George W. Bush.
The federal highway trust fund required extra allocations beyond gasoline tax revenues the past two years to remain solvent, she said.
“Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are taking increasing amounts of federal nondefense discretionary revenues, leaving transportation to compete for funding with education, health care and climate change. We won't win that battle,” she said.
Peters urged Texans to be heard in the debate as Congress prepares a new transportation budget, especially since Texas receives back only 92.5 cents for every $1 in gasoline tax it sends to Washington. Alaska, in comparison, receives $6 for every dollar and West Virginia about $4.
“I'm sure some of you are frustrated sitting in traffic in Texas when some of the funds are being used to restore covered bridges in Vermont, some of which don't even carry traffic,” Peters said.
Peters said the federal highway funding formulas need to change to allow states more flexibility in determining how to spend their allocations.
Better highways are needed to reduce congestion.
“Here in the San Antonio area, you waste 26,000 gallons of fuel per year and lose more than 27,000 person hours to delay, at a cost of more than $27 million a year,” Peters said.
The Transportation Department also needs long-delayed allocations to modernize the air-traffic control system, she said. Airliners can fly more direct routes under a satellite-based navigation system and avoid the delays under the current ground-based radar equipment, Peters said.
Since leaving office in January, Peters has started her own company, Mary E. Peters Consulting Group. One of her clients is San Antonio's Zachry American Infrastructure, a Zachry Corp. company. Peters is helping the company raise awareness of public-private partnerships in transportation projects.
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