Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

planning - history


Transportation programs, Legislative support, Legislation, Interstate highways, History, Highway user taxation, Highway Trust Fund, Funding, Financing


The Federal Highway Trust Fund (the fund), which contains receipts from highway user fees (such as gasoline and heavy vehicle use fees), was established by Congress in 1956. Its principal purpose was to finance the construction of the Interstate highway system, and its creators' original intention was to terminate the fund when that effort was accomplished. However, the fund has since morphed into an ongoing method of financing a broad range of federal transportation programs and now comprises both a highway account and a mass transit account. Over the years, the structure of the taxes supporting the fund and the rules governing its expenditures and administration have changed, sometimes significantly. Among the most significant changes were a series of increases to tax levels and transfers to the fund (major increases occurred in 1959, 1961, 1966, 1982, and 1997), the imposition of obligation limits in 1974, and the restoration of the user fee concept in 1998. The congressional authorizing acts that provided for these and other revisions to the fund's funding levels and administrative procedures from 1956 to 2003 are documented. The fund's history is a particularly topical subject because Congress continues to address extensions to the fund, the fund's supporting revenues, and the transportation programs it finances.