Reconnecting America People * Places * Possibility

Busting the "Great Myth of Highway Finance"

More News & Resources:

In discussions of infrastructure investments at all levels of government, arguments against transit and non-automobile transportation often center on whether or not these investments "pay for themselves". Many mistakenly believe that roads and automobile transportation projects do through user fees, primarily taxes on gasoline.

"To make the right choices for America’s transportation future, the nation should take a smart approach to transportation investments, one that weighs the full costs and benefits of those investments and then allocates the costs of those investments fairly across society," a new U.S.PIRG Education Fund  report explains.

To do so, the U.S. PIRG report, "Do Roads Pay for Themselves? Setting the Record Straight on Transportation Funding," says the nation needs to come to grips with what the report describes as the "Great Myth of Highway Finance" that once upon a time highways were built without subsidies from general taxpayers.

The report offers an extensive review of the 78-year history of the federal gas tax, which was originally imposed in 1932 as part of President Herbert Hoover's efforts to reduce the federal deficit.

And as the report points out, "Gasoline taxes and other charges on drivers have not come anywhere close to paying for the cost of constructing and maintaining America’s roads. And, with a few historical exceptions, they never have."

Even if all of the so-called "user fee" revenues paid my motorists were devoted to highways — ending the contributions made to alternate transportation options — those fees would still pay less than two-thirds of the nation’s highway bill, according to the report.

"If America is to make the right transportation choices for the 21st century, we need to rely less on myths and outdated assumptions and instead make clear-headed decisions about which transportation investments will deliver the greatest benefits for the nation in the years ahead," the report concludes.

The report is available here.