By Eileen Houlihan, senior writer/editor, ARTBA

Less than a week after the U. S. Senate approved the latest in a long string of extensions for the Highway Trust Fund, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) May 27 said he is willing to support a gas tax increase in order to fund a long-term surface transportation bill.

Carper reiterated his belief that the federal government needs to remain involved in transportation funding, noting that devolution, or “the idea that our transportation systems stop at state borders,” does not work. “One of the best ways to strengthen economic recovery is through transportation investment,” he told participants at an Eno Center for Transportation event.

“In 1982, Ronald Reagan and Congress made a really tough decision to increase the gas tax in the middle of a recession. Maybe we can muster the courage to do something tough in 2015,” Carper said.

Carper has proposed a small incremental increase of 3 to 4 cents to the gas tax over the next few years, indexing the tax to inflation after three or four years. But he said he remains open to other proposals, including that of Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) who introduced legislation this year supporting an increase in fuel taxes.

ARTBA’s “Getting Beyond Gridlock” proposal marries a 15 cents-per-gallon increase in the federal gas and diesel motor fuels tax with a federal tax rebate for middle and lower income Americans for six years, if necessary.  It would fund a $401 billion, six-year highway and public transit capital investment program and provide sustainable, user-based funds to support it for at least the next 10 years. Read more.

“We’re running out of money to fund transportation projects and we need to do something. Leadership is the courage to march out of step and do the right thing and in this case, the right thing to do is pay for this stuff,” Carper said, adding that the frequent short-term extensions Congress has passed over the last 12 years are “the equivalent of taking a road trip across the country and putting a gallon of gasoline in your car at a time.”