No easy answers to transportation

While Americans are quick to decry the do-nothing Congress or the president who is at loggerheads with the will of the people, there is evidence that at least with one major issue the federal government, unfortunately, is representative of the nation.

That issue is transportation, specifically, how to pay for highway repairs and public transportation.

Congress hasn’t passed a full highway bill in years, and the results show in roads in poor condition and lurk beneath the surface in the form of crumbling bridges, physically inadequate railroad lines and insufficient modernization of the aviation system.

That is allowed to continue because, while 60 percent of Americans see the economic benefits of a well-maintained road, rail and air network, there is no consensus on ways to pay for needed maintenance and improvements.

According to the Associated Press-Gfk poll, 58 percent of Americans also are opposed to raising federal gasoline taxes – which remain at the level they were 20 years ago – as a funding mechanism. That is more of a decline than just the passage of time would indicate, with more fuel-efficient cars and trucks using less fuel and Americans driving less miles annually, meaning the per-gallon take of the tax is the same, but there are fewer gallons being bought, so the total take is lower.

Americans don’t want financial responsibility for projects to be pushed to their states or local governments, nor do they favor switching to a vehicle user fee based on miles traveled.

The Federal Highway Trust Fund, which brought us the Interstate system, which should be the envy of the world, teeters from emergency funding patch to emergency funding patch every year in Congress.

But Americans shouldn’t be shocked.

Even the Interstate 35 bridge collapse of 2007 at Minneapolis failed to motivate Americans to get a new transportation funding mechanism in place.

Americans love their planes and trains and automobiles, but expect someone, somehow, other than the people themselves, to pay for them.

And that division simply gives the Congress and the president more reason for rancorous debate without solutions while the potholes grow and the bridges continue to fall.

So the problem isn’t Washington. It’s that Washington actually is a representative government on this issue.