Highway Funding:

Federal Distribution Formulas Should Be Changed

RCED-86-114: Published: Mar 31, 1986. Publicly Released: Apr 30, 1986.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the statutory formulas used to apportion federal highway funds to the states.

More than $13 billion in highway funds have been apportioned among the states in fiscal year 1986 on the basis of highway formulas enacted by Congress over the years. GAO found that: (1) the factors used in formulas to apportion highway funds should reflect the extent and usage of today's highway system; (2) lane-miles is a direct measure of the size of the road network and should be used to reflect the extent of the system to be preserved; (3) highway use can be measured by both vehicle-miles of travel and motor fuel consumption; (4) each method of measurement has advantages and disadvantages as a formula; (5) the interstate resurfacing, restoration, rehabilitation, and reconstruction program is the only formula currently using a combination of these factors; and (6) the primary, secondary, and urban formulas need to be revised to be consistent with the extent and use of the current system. Changing the factors used in arriving at these apportionment formulas would result in some states receiving more or less funds than under the present formulas.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress recently enacted the 5-year Federal-Aid Highway Act, which does not address this recommendation to revise highway apportionment factors. No change is expected in the immediate future.

    Matter: Congress should revise the factors used in the primary, secondary, and urban formulas as follows: (1) land area, which correlates poorly with the extent of the highway system, should be deleted from the primary and secondary formulas and be replaced with lane-miles, which more closely measures the extent of the highway system; (2) population, either rural or urban, which is an inexact measure of highway use, should be replaced with either vehicle miles of travel or motor fuel consumption, either of which more closely reflects highway use, including changes in such use; (3) postal mileage, which seems to bear no relationship to either the extent of the highway system or its use, should be deleted from the primary and secondary formulas; and (4) lane-miles should be added to the federal-aid urban highway apportionment formula, which is now based only on urban population, to provide a measure of the extent of the urban system.

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The recently enacted 5-year Federal-Aid Highway Act does not include this recommendation to weight factors, based on road deterioration. GAO does not anticipate any legislative change in the near future.

    Matter: Congress should request that the primary, secondary, and urban formula factors be weighted to reflect road deterioration.

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Actions along the lines recommended have not been contemplated at this time. Census Bureau information collection efforts are being cut back, thus, data may not be available. The 1987 Federal-Aid Highway Act did not include this recommendation. Apparently, it was not considered while the bill was in committee.

    Matter: If Congress wishes to continue to use population in primary, secondary, and urban formulas, the Census Bureau's current state population estimates should be used between decennial censuses to develop annual estimates of urban and rural population.


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