States would pay more for highways under new plan

November 23, 1990|By New York Times

WASHINGTON -- Spending on the nation's highways and the corresponding costs to states would rise under a plan being considered by the the Bush administration.

The revision is considered the most important one in decades, coming as the 43,000-mile Interstate Highway System nears completion and as many states are short of cash.

While the majority of federal highway spending has for decades gone to the Interstates, the proposal seeks to make more money available for upgrading primary highways, such as U.S. 1, which runs roughly parallel to Interstate 95 from Maine to Florida.

The ambitious five-year plan calls for expanding highway construction, broadening the network of major national roads, providing incentives to reduce congestion and allowing states to charge tolls on more highways.

Draft summaries of the plan, which have been circulated among state officials and industry groups, show that the administration's proposal would expand the mileage of roads eligible for federal aid.

Proposed legislation that would provide at least $85 billion in federal highway aid to the states from 1992 to 1996 has been written at the Transportation Department, where senior officials call it their main legislative effort for the coming year.

But the proposal would also steadily increase federal spending on those roads, using as much as half the recent increase of five cents a gallon in the tax on gasoline.

In keeping with efforts by the Reagan and Bush administrations to force states to bear more responsibility for public services, the highway proposal would also decrease the percentage of the construction costs covered by federal aid.

That would require states to match federal grants with higher contributions of their own, forcing some of them to raise their own taxes on gasoline, find another source of money or make other difficult budget choices.

Federal highway legislation is renewed every five years, and each time the law affects virtually every community and citizen.

But shifting more of the costs to the states has already provoked debate.

In a speech in New York last week, Rep. Norman Y. Mineta, D-Calif., chairman of the House subcommittee that will write legislation on highways and mass transit next year, called that policy "the wrong way to go."

He said densely populated states such as California and New York were already paying heavily for transportation programs.

Under the proposal, the federal government would pay 75 percent of the costs of Interstates and primary highways alike, as against 90 percent for Interstates and 80 percent for primary highways under the current system.

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