New cars go farther on less gas

(Grant Hindsley/AP, file) (Grant Hindsley/AP, file)

The average mileage for vehicles sold in January was 24.9 mpg, a slight bump up from December, according to figures released Tuesday. It’s also a hair higher than the 12-month average for last year — 24.79 mpg. That’s almost 4 mpg better than the 20.9 recorded in 2008.

That tracking by Michael Sivak at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute suggests that automakers are inching closer to the federal mandate of a 54.5 mph average by 2025. It’s also a vivid illustration of why the 18.4 cent-per-gallon federal gas tax no longer produces enough revenue to pay for upkeep and expansion of the transportation system. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has predicted the Highway Trust Fund, to which the gas tax flows, may begin “bouncing checks” by summer.

As Congress begins to search for money to support a new long-term transportation bill when the current bill expires Nov. 1, hiking the gas tax is one option on the table. It wouldn’t be a permanent fix if the 54.5 mph goal is achieved, but it could provide cash for now. That said, however, House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said Tuesday that a gas tax bump wasn’t likely this year.

“It’s not the time,” Shuster said at a forum in D.C. held by Bloomberg News. “Our economy is not in good shape. I believe there are ways to fill the holes in the Highway Trust Fund.”

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.

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