Highway Trust Fund: Improved Solvency Mechanisms and Communication Needed to Help Avoid Shortfalls in the Highway Account

Source: Government Accountability Office, GAO-09-316, February 6, 2009

The Highway Account within the Highway Trust Fund is the primary mechanism for funding federal highway programs. The account– administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) within the Department of Transportation (DOT)–channels about $33 billion in highway user excise taxes annually to states for highway projects. Although DOT and others projected that the account could run out of funds in fiscal year 2009, the balance fell more rapidly than expected and a shortfall became imminent in August 2008. In September, Congress passed legislation to provide $8 billion to replenish the account, but DOT officials anticipate the account could reach a critical stage again in fiscal year 2009.

This report (1) describes the events that led to the decline in the account balance, including how DOT responded, and (2) identifies potential improvements in mechanisms to manage account solvency. This report also includes information on strategies GAO has reported on in the past that could be used to better align account outlays and revenues. To conduct this work, GAO analyzed information in legal and budget documents, reviewed account estimates, and interviewed agency officials and stakeholders.

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