By Mark Holan, editorial director, ARTBA

Nationwide motor fuel consumption grew 3 percent from January through August 2015 compared to the same period in 2014, a record increase over the last 11 years, according to the latest data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

“This is in line with the increases that we’ve seen in vehicle miles traveled data,” said Dr. Alison Premo Black, ARTBA’s chief economist. “As the economy recovers and more people are working again, they are also driving more, and gasoline consumption has increased.”

Federal employment data released Jan. 8 shows employers added 292,000 workers in December. The December unemployment rate remained at 5 percent, half the Great Recession peak of 10 percent in October 2009.

The previous largest fuel consumption increase for the January to August period was 1.1 percent in 2014 compared to 2013. During the recession, fuel consumption declined 2.4 percent in August 2008 compared to August 2007, and 2.3 percent in August 2011 compared to August 2010.

Eight-month snapshots before 2005 were not immediately available.

Total fuel volume, including non-highway uses, was 94.8 billion gallons for the first eight months of 2015, also a record for the last 11 years. Volume dropped to a low 60 billion gallons from January to August 2007.

The South Atlantic region drove the 2015 surge with an above-average 4.4 percent increase, followed by the Gulf South at 3.8 percent and the West at 3.2 percent. Weaker consumption growth of 0.5 percent in the Northeast and 2.2 percent in the North Central lowered the national average.

Taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel sales pump revenue into the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) and state transportation department coffers to pay for highway, bridge and public transit construction and maintenance. The 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax hasn’t been increased since 1993, creating a shortfall in the HTF that Congress has patched with one-time revenues. The five-year Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act that became law in December includes revenue from selling oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The weighted average of federal and state gas taxes in the U.S. is 43 cents per gallon, compared to converted currency rates of 234 cents per gallon in Japan; 431 cents per gallon in Germany; and 498 cents per gallon in the United Kingdom, according to the latest FHWA report.