Highway money is on pace to run out in July.
The Congressional Budget Office has released a status update on the Highway Trust Fund that pays for America's roads and part of its transit network. Prognosis? Negative. The gas tax that helps populate the fund has lost most of its purchasing power thanks to a combination of political stagnation (it's gone unchanged since 1993), increased fuel-efficiency, and soaring construction costs.
CBO sums up the grim situation best in a single chart:
The current estimate is that the highway and transit accounts linked to the fund will run out of money "during the summer of 2015." That timeline fits with the latest update from Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who expects DOT to stop making payments in July. That's a couple months after the current transportation funding bill expires at the end of May.
The situation leaves Congress, as usual, scrambling for options. The easiest solution—raising the gas tax—is also an extremely unlikely one, given how lawmakers love to keep the cost of driving artificially low. Congress also has the option of transferring money into the highway fund from elsewhere in the treasury—a likely (if legally dubious) move that it's made to the tune of at least $56 billion since 2008, according to the CBO.
A more progressive option exists in the form of a per-mile driving fee capable of raising an unworldly $246.31 billion by 2020, but it's typically dismissed for privacy reasons (despite the fact that Oregon's similar pilot program has addressed that concern).
For the record, there are a couple funding proposals on the table. The White House has outlined a six-year, $478 billion infrastructure program to be paid for through a repatriation tax on overseas corporations. A bipartisan Senate team of Rand Paul and Barbara Boxer has introduced a bill with a similar funding approach.
What's clear from the CBO's latest chart is the leaky gas tax needs something to help it patch up transportation funding—both now and for many years to come.