One word: privatization.
Interest rates are at historic lows, while corporate profits are at historic highs. Both parties want to restrict government income by capping borrowing while lowering taxes. This forces government to sell off those publicly-owned assets that it can no longer maintain. Highways are one of the most valuable assets owned by governments.
So picture this: The government outsources road building and repair. It guarantees loans to private industry, plus gives them big tax incentives/deductions for rebuilding America’s infrastructure. Industry then owns all or part of the roads they build and/or maintain. Industry turns the American road system into a set of interlinked toll roads. Outfit each vehicle with a GPS, which functions as a remote monitoring system for calculating tolls. The private highway companies send you a bill at the end of the month, just like for phones, electricity, etc. It’s another potential source of huge profits for private industry, built on an infrastructure paid for by taxpayers. Citizens who benefited from government investment in the road system are turned into paying customers. I don’t think this is far-fetched at all. Obama already floated the idea a couple of months ago as a way to pay for “investing in America’s infrastructure.”
[I wrote this earlier today as a comment on Erdman’s post about financing the American roads, but I thought I’d suck it back into Ktismatics as a speculative post in its own right.]