UPDATED: Drivers Cover Just 51 Percent of U.S. Road Spending

There’s a persistent misconception in American culture that transit is a big drain on public coffers while roads conveniently and totally pay for themselves through the magic of gas taxes. And that used to be true — at least for interstate highways, a fraction of the total road network.

Drivers directly pay for just 50.7 percent of the cost of the American road system. Image: ##http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hampton_Roads_Bridge_Tunnel.jpg##Wikipedia##

But that was many, many failed attempts to raise the gas tax ago. A new report from the Tax Foundation shows 50.7 percent of America’s road spending comes from gas taxes, tolls, and other fees levied on drivers. The other 49.3 percent? Well, that comes from general tax dollars, just like education and health care. The way we spend on roads has nothing to do with the free market, or even how much people use roads.

“Nationwide in 2010, state and local governments raised $37 billion in motor fuel taxes and $12 billion in tolls and non-fuel taxes, but spent $155 billion on highways,” writes the Tax Foundation’s Joseph Henchman. Another $28 billion of that $155 billion comes from revenue from the federal gas tax.

Meanwhile, transit fares cover 21 percent of costs nationwide, indicating that the difference in subsidies for roads and transit is not as great as it’s often made out to be. (Though in absolute terms, there is a big difference: The total subsidy for roads dwarfs the total subsidy for transit.)

Even more interesting is to compare roads to Amtrak, a favorite target of self-styled fiscal conservatives in Congress. Amtrak recovers about 85 percent of its operating costs from tickets — a relative bargain compared to other modes. Even accounting for capital costs, Amtrak — which operates mostly on privately owned tracks — covers 69 percent of its total costs through ticket prices and other fees to users.

The Tax Foundation also analyzed transportation spending in every state to determine which states subsidize their road systems the most through general taxes. Drivers in Delaware, Florida, New Jersey, North Carolina, and New York cover the highest share of road spending compared to drivers in other states. Drivers in Wyoming, Alaska, South Dakota, and Vermont cover the lowest share.

Correction: An earlier version of this story, using Tax Foundation calculations that don’t factor in the federal gas tax, understated the share of road spending covered by drivers. Also, updated 1/24/13 to reflect total Amtrak costs.

  • Jesse Greene

    Seems like it’s only fair then that non-drivers be given 68% of the asphalt. Or at least something more than 0% that we’re given on the vast majority of streets. 

  • political-incorrectness

    Did the user fee side include licensing drivers? Federal gas tax receipts? Motor vehicle excise taxes?

  • This report still seriously underestimates the subsidy to road users. The rational way to calculate road use costs is to add direct costs such as spending on roadbuilding, repairs and so on to external costs, such as pollution, accidents, congestion and various forms of environmental damage. I moved in August to New York City from the UK. I wrote last year in a blogpost (
    http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.com/2012/04/general-theory-of-cycling-motorists-and.html) how most transport economists think that, even with the far higher taxation of motoring in the UK compared with the US, motor vehicles are around 
    £3bn ($4.8bn) a year short of meeting the full costs of the UK’s road network. Given the US’s far lower taxation of motoring, the position here is bound to be well short of that.

    A big part of the reason why mass transit and cycling have a hard time in the US is that their main competitor is so much cheaper than it would be if motorists were covering their own costs. It’s time to move towards a system of distance-based road-user charging (I mention in the blogpost to which I linked above a visit seven years ago to Oregon’s interesting experiment in this area). Part of such a scheme should be to price properly the carbon costs of motoring. I wrote in a blogpost at the weekend how such a pricing system is vital to get public policy about global warming shifted from mere gesture-making to actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions: http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.com/2013/01/a-blown-nose-blown-world-environment.html

  • Anonymous

    Thank you, Angie, for putting this together. It’s really important that this type of data be put out there. The externalized costs of driving are astounding. Note that the analysis talked about here *still* externalizes many costs of driving such as increased air pollution, death and injury from accidents, and the noise and dehumanization of our cities (though admittedly this last issue is much harder to quantify). Add all that in, and it will make public transit (and of course bicycling and walking) look much better.

  • Ian Turner

    @f3ae03fdd66c7f54b5df979b99615e1e:disqus : Definitions used are here: http://www2.census.gov/govs/pubs/classification/2006_classification_manual.pdf

    It does appear to include the stuff that you are talking about, but there is a bunch of stuff left out (though maybe small percentage-wise); for example, the following are excluded from analysis:
    – The cost of the highway patrol (N.B. Amtrak has to provide its own policing)
    – Revenue from traffic tickets
    – Sales taxes on sales of automobiles (registration fees and the like are included)
    – The cost of street cleaning

  • Ian Turner

    @f3ae03fdd66c7f54b5df979b99615e1e:disqus : Definitions used are here: http://www2.census.gov/govs/pubs/classification/2006_classification_manual.pdf

    It does appear to include the stuff that you are talking about, but there is a bunch of stuff left out (though maybe small percentage-wise); for example, the following are excluded from analysis:
    – The cost of the highway patrol (N.B. Amtrak has to provide its own policing)
    – Revenue from traffic tickets
    – Sales taxes on sales of automobiles (registration fees and the like are included)
    – The cost of street cleaning

  • From looking at the Tax Foundation source of this reporting, I’m seeing that the Federal contribution is included within the spending side, but the Federal gas tax and any other user payments made to the Feds for transportation (net of Federal tax deductions which many road users can claim) are not included in the user payment contribution that goes into the overall percentage of state and local road expenditures covered by road users. Therefore, the 32% user contribution for roads is understated and the percentage of subsidy is overstated.
    Since Amtrak was brought up in the reporting, the subsidy calculation for private inter-city bus transportation by the likes of Greyhound, MegaBus, et al would be interesting to know. The trade association for inter-city bus providers claims that these buses carry more people every few weeks than Amtrak carries in a year.

  • Ian Turner

    @JohnNiles:disqus : A fairer report that takes federal taxes into consideration is here:
    http://taxfoundation.org/blog/road-spending-state-funded-user-taxes-and-fees-including-federal-gas-tax-revenues

  • @JohnNiles:disqus @7c177865bd107a919938355fe93de93a:disqus Thanks for pointing out that methodological flaw in the Tax Foundation calculations. We’ve updated the post.

  • Ron Kilcoyne

    As Robert Wright indicates this does not include external costs. As others have commented this probably doesn’t cover the share of policing devoted to traffic, snow removal, street and traffic lights. But the big elephant in the room not mentioned is parking. While this is normally a private subsidy it is a subsidy none the less and has shown to have a bigger impact on travel behavior (at least for work trip commutes) than other factors. Donald Shoup estimates the in 2002 the parking subsidy for off street parking only was between $127 billion and $374 billion. (A quick Google search did not come up with anything more recent.) But even taking the low number and factoring in for inflation (I assumed 2% per year) comes to coincidentally $155 billion in 2012 – but this was pure subsidy.
    Also the tax Foundation Report focused on what states and localities are actually spending not what they should be spending to bring our transport infrastructure to a state of good repair and sustain it at that level. So factoring all of these things together even after adding in sales tax from car fees and traffic and parking ticket revenue I would suspect the percentage of auto cost covered by the user to be below the 20% of transit. Indeed just adding the parking subsidy to the state and local expenses for roads included in the Tax Foundation report and including federal user fees – the user only directly covers 25% of the cost of driving a car.

  • Anonymous

    @28854f0fc849c4c3ee3e205537715d07:disqus Those calculations are wrong because they have a woefully flawed assumption – that in absence of mandated parking nobody would offer free parking, and a secondary troublesome assumption that in absence of parking, all it space would be put to some other use (underground parking garages don’t have other uses except storage, but only up to a certain volume). 

  • Anonymous

    Even pedestrianized streets or bike paths need cleaning. Actually they need more cleaning. 

  • Anonymous

    @jd_x:disqus While costs of accidents are a valid concern, “dehumanization of cities” is a bogus, agenda-tainted argument that should be dismissed. It would be like saying broadband Internet users are not paying the price for “reduction on live social interactions” because they go meet less people in person and communicate only more, or to blame computer games for not internalizing the costs of leaving vulnerable kids without friends because everyone is playing some online game. 

  • Anonymous

    @andrelot:disqus wrote: ” ‘dehumanization of cities’
    is a bogus, agenda-tainted argument that should be dismissed.”

    I disagree. This dehumanization of cities by cars is a large part of what drove people out of cities into sprawling suburbs a generation ago. What has been the cost of that to our carbon footprint and loss of biodiversity? I agree that it’s hard to quantify, but it’s definitely an important issue. I also think, for those who stay in the city and put up with the dehumanization, it has consequences on our social behavior, by making us all less empathetic and more hostile to others. I don’t have data on this so it’s just my theory, but I think it’s pretty intuitive to understand that car-centric urban design negatively affects us all in ways that is hard to quantify.

    “Even pedestrianized streets or bike paths need cleaning. Actually they need more cleaning.”

    They indeed need cleaning, but a fraction of car roads. In fact, the bike lanes on, for example, are all full of the crap cars blow off onto the bike lane. If the bike lane was put up on a curb so that all the debris from the cars wasn’t blown onto it, it would need to be swept much less often than the main road. In addition, since bike lanes are smaller than car lanes, you use a smaller machine which costs less to buy up front, costs less to maintain, and uses less fuel. Everything on the bike or pedestrian scale will always be smaller than that on a the scale of cars and hence always cheaper and more efficient.

  • Bolwerk

    Wait, wait.  The link says this is for state and local roads, not federal highway system spending.  I’m going to have to parse this more closely another day, but quickly-ish…

    I’ve run these numbers myself before, using a somewhat different (cruder) methodology I think, but came up pretty close to 51% myself. Here’s the thing: I can’t really tell how to generalize these numbers.  It appears to me this kind of funding counts arterial highways (e.g., interstates and other major arteries, though I don’t know where to draw the line). That’s where gas taxes are probably going, and that’s where federal funding is presumably going (in theory anyway). 

    The hitch is that local roads (the kind that goes through a subdivision, or a minor country road) probably get paid for some other way, perhaps by property taxes. There is no way in hell this type of road, which makes up the bulk the U.S. road system, is self-financed either. The people who use these roads pay gas taxes, yes, but those gas taxes, at the federal level anyway, are most likely supporting highways these people MIGHT NOT BE USING. Those gas taxes are raised by the federal gov’t and disbursed fairly back to the states, in theory.

    Another hitch is states may have their own tax (or toll) system that varies exactly what type of roadway it supports.

    Anyway, I may be off base – which is why I don’t parade my own calculations very much – but if I’m anything approaching right, then the road system is doing way crappier than 51% self-financing. The arterial highway system might be doing that well, but the wider road system is not. Road financing in the USA is an incestuous shell game, in any case.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The situation is even more stark if you go back in time, and look at it historically.  Transit and railroad were created by the private sector with some public assistance, and paid taxes before being bankrupted by government-provided highways.

    The gas taxes that built the highways and arterials that built sprawl were paid for by gas taxes paid by those living in older cities, with streets that had been paid for by those who walked, used transit, and (or course) used horses.

  • As others have pointed out, drivers having half their road costs subsidized is only the tip of the subsidy iceberg.

    First off, drivers get their fuel subsidized to the tune of $234 billion/year.  In 2011, $4.6 billion was spent subsidizing corn, making it cheaper than it would be in an unsubsidized marketplace.  40% of this corn went into gas tanks, giving drivers a $1.84 billion subsidy.  And $4 billion of taxpayer money went to subsidize the oil industry, which, at least theoretically, benefits drivers by keeping oil drilling and exploration costs lower than they otherwise would have been.  And then let’s conservatively estimate that a third of the US military budget is spent keeping world oil available to world oil markets. So that makes another $228 billion subsidy to provide automobile fuel.

    Drivers get their parking subsidized by $162 billion/year. As mentioned in another comment, Donal Shoup estimated that in 2002 the value of free parking in the US was a $127 billion subsidy to drivers. Update that to 2012 dollars, and that makes the subsidy $162 billion.

    Drivers get their traffic accidents subsidized by $150 billion/year. In 2011, AAA estimated that the costs of traffic accidents that year was $300 billion. Since all vehicle insurance premiums paid came to about half of that (and some of the money was retained for the insurance companies to make a profit), more than half of the $300 billion cost of traffic accidents was not paid for by drivers but instead by society at large to cover emergency personnel time, clean up costs, medical care and lives lost.

    Drivers get the cost of their tailpipe emissions entirely subsidized by $610 billion/year. The Victoria Transport Policy Institute in 2008 estimated that per mile the average car incurs 4 cents of air pollution damage and 14.7 cents of greenhouse gas damage.  This may not sound like much, except when we consider the incredible number of miles driven every year in the this country.  Last year US VMT was 2,945,000,000,000.  So take the Victoria Transport Policy Institute’s numbers, update them for inflation to 2012 (to 4.43 cents a mile for air pollution and 16.3 cents per mile for greenhouse gas damage) and we get that drivers underpaid in aggregate a whopping $130 billion last year in air pollution damages and $480 billion in greenhouse gas damages. (Though $480 billion may sound like a lot, the costs due to our greenhouse gas emissions will stretch on decades past the point human beings finally stop burning fossil fuels. This year, in 2012 alone, ten natural disasters including Hurricane Sandy will cost $80 billion and the midwest drought at this point is estimated to cost $100 billion. But we are just now paying the price for the greenhouse gases emitted twenty years ago. Rest assured that the driving done this year will eventually cost our children and grandchildren more than $480 billion in today’s dollars, not that that we will actually set aside this money for them, mind you.)

    So roads may cost $155 billion a year and drivers only cover $79 billion of that, but that’s peanuts.  Drivers really should be paying (for their fuel, their accidents, their parking, their air pollution, their real share of road costs and their greenhouse gas damage) at least an additional $1.232 trillion a year, which comes to an additional 42 cents per mile or an additional $8.93 per gallon of gas.

    If drivers had to pay the true costs of their driving, public transit would be quite economical in comparison even if subsidies were dropped from transit as well. And of course biking and walking would be revealed as the incredibly good value they are to both the individual and collective pocketbook. (And our health care costs would go down further because walking and biking makes people dramatically healthier.) In addition, most trucking freight would be converted to rail freight overnight. Though I own a car and drive on occasion, I would much rather pay the true cost of my driving so as not to subsidize all the people who drive many, many more miles than I do. I would also rather purchase goods that reflect the true cost of shipping so that I am not subsidizing heavy items that I don’t buy (like soda pop and bottled water) that are priced well under what they should be because their shipping has been so heavily subsidized.

  • KillMoto

    Time to start calling motorists “Halfers”, in honor of the half of their cost they cover.  Maybe it’ll go viral. 

  • Clarke

    Highways don’t turn a profit. Close them down.

  • KillMoto

    The USA keeps an entire navy fleet in the Persian Gulf 24 x 7 x 365.  It’s there to keep the shipping lanes open for the free flow of oil.  This is paid for by US citizen income taxes.  This is a direct subsidy to single occupancy vehicle usage (though a portion also makes my home heating oil cheaper, I acknowledge).

    “Halfers” pay way less than half their costs when you think about it. 

  • Andrew

    How about space? The space that cars occupy might not be worth much in rural Indiana, but in cities the space taken up by cars can be quite valuable. @28854f0fc849c4c3ee3e205537715d07:disqus , this includes space taken up by parked vehicles but also space taken up by moving vehicles.

  • RichardC

    This is very interesting, and certainly worth pointing to whenever anyone makes a claim that drivers pay their own way.

    That said, the Amtrak and transit numbers aren’t really comparable because they don’t include capital costs, and really should if we’re looking at all public monetary costs (obviously private sector costs – like most parking – and externalities are an entirely different ball game).

  • allison

    Angie, the link headline is still the old version.

  • Just to clarify, is it:

     – Roads – 51% of capital+operating costs
     – Transit – 21% of capital+operating costs
     – Amtrak – 85% of operating costs only?

    What is Amtrak’s value if capital costs are included?  What about roads/transit if capital are excluded?  If I’m understanding how those metrics are given, it’d seem an apples/oranges comparison at the moment.

  • I don’t think it’s quite that apples and oranges. I don’t think a lot of the road operating costs — highway patrol, snow removal — are included in the costs. So what we’re seeing here is capital costs for roads. Amtrak operates on infrastructure that is mostly privately owned. Obviously there is a capital cost involved with trains. But Amtrak’s costs are mostly operating. Roads are mostly capital. However, you bring up a good point. The total recovery ratio for Amtrak, including capital costs, is 64%. I will add that. 

  • @thisisbossi:disqus You make a good point. I think the road expenses probably understate operating costs, highway patrol, snow removal and the like. (It’s not 100 percent clear from the article or the source data.) But if you include capital costs to Amtrak (most Amtrak trains operate on privately owned infrastructure) total farebox recovery was 68 percent in 2011. I am going to add that to the post. 

  • @thisisbossi:disqus You make a good point. I think the road expenses probably understate operating costs, highway patrol, snow removal and the like. (It’s not 100 percent clear from the article or the source data.) But if you include capital costs to Amtrak (most Amtrak trains operate on privately owned infrastructure) total farebox recovery was 68 percent in 2011. I am going to add that to the post. 

  • Bolwerk

    @thisisbossi:disqus: Doubtful, but you’re right that it’s a really terrible comparison; I seriously doubt drivers cover anywhere near 51% of road spending. As I said below, they probably are covering about that much highway spending. 

    Roads are a little different than railroads. Most of the public “operating” is enforcement and light maintenance (filling potholes, etc.).  The “private” vehicle operating is done by drivers. A capital expense is more akin to major replacement or expansion in either mode. Routine replacement should not count; think replacing a worn out rail or the bulb in a signal.

    I’d break out bus and rail transit, too.  The former is more expensive to operate and tends to attract fewer riders, but has a higher capital expense. Amtrak is another can of worms; I believe it exists largely to pay railroad pensions, which are basically deferred payment (maybe even from pre- or non-Amtrak employees).

    Finally, keep in mind these ratios, and ratios say little about what something actually costs.  1% of 1000 is bigger than 50% of 12. Ultimately, the only useful purpose this ratio has is showing that drivers aren’t paying their own way either. And that usefulness is limited, because road ideologues are rarely swayed by facts.

  • Bolwerk makes a good point, one that really needs to be brought out in the open more, because it actually makes the argument even more astounding.  I calculated the taxes vs. spending equation too (based FHWA numbers a few years ago) and the amount collected in Federal AND State gas taxes is only used to cover about 52% of HIGHWAY spending.  That’s the critical part, HIGHWAYS.  The rest of the road/street network is mostly left out.  It gets a little muddy when considering State or US highways where they run through municipalities, but overall, if there isn’t a numbered shield associated with the street, it doesn’t get gas tax funds. 

    This is a huge part of the network, the vast majority of the lane miles, and they’re mainly funded out of local property, sales, and in some cases income taxes, but there’s no “user fee” component at all in most cases.  Unfortunately it’s difficult to put numbers on this huge but hidden part of the equation, because the spending is done on a local level that’s very difficult to track and aggregate, but it’s still there. 

  • There is also policing costs (Highway Patrol). Much like public pays for air traffic control. These sorts of costs often are forgotten when folks discuss highway and airline subsidies.

  • Anonymous

    As this article makes clear, and as @83acf2c7d2c24d02bf1e01844d5cecd6:disqus , @3a9cb377ae68ba7b489d30e5eb859747:disqus and others have pointed out, there is a lot of confusion and probably even obfuscation here. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that arguably one of the most subsidized components of our society is so integrated into the fabricate of our thinking that we can’t even figure out where all the money comes form. That fact alone is proof enough of the ridiculous subsidies cars have gotten. For anybody to criticize public transit or, even more insanely, bicyclists for not “paying their share” while somehow not expecting the same from motorists (who, by the way, are using the most inefficient and dangerous mode of transit to boot), is completely unaware of what is actual going on in our society. I think the only way we are going to get a hold on these externalized costs of driving is for some agency/corporation/NGO to have its sole mission to be to straighten all this out once and for all. After all, you can’t improve the situation if you don’t even understand it.

  • hUcKiECA

    In looking at data for only 2010, I wonder how much the recovery act skewed that data.  I think that congress approved something like $45B to be spent on “shovel ready” transportation projects in 2009, and I would bet that most of those were done in 2010.  While there is no doubt that the freezing of gas taxes at 1993 levels has drained the highway trust fund, the numbers in this study might be skewed even further based on the economic recession of 2008/2009.

  • Bolwerk

    @5a74a4f7ff8392618bee92b2106d1800:disqus : Don’t think it did. When I saw this debated on usenet in 2004, the ratios were pretty similar.

  • roadguy

    HTF user fee subsidies for transit have forced general fund subsidies for highways. It is all too conveneintly concocted by transit-heavy political clout.

    Here’s how it works:
    After the Interstate system was largely complete in the late 80’s, the motor fuel revenues were higher than necessary to maintain a fairly new road system. Washington, never wanting to let go of a tax stream, was lobbied by transit to get extra dollars to subsidize transit capital construction programs. Once the camel’s nose was under the tent, the interstate system started needing some work and Moynihan and O’Neil wouldn’t let go of transit subsidies.

    Fast forward 25 years…
    Now the motor fuel and excise taxes on highway vehicles brings in about $36B/yr. Highways only are allocated ~$29B of that amount, the balance to the Transit account. Meanwhile, Congress has authorized spending in the amount of $41B on highways ($5B overprogrammed from direct revenues) while Transit gets the $5B it didn’t earn through the farebox, plus another $4-5B from GR.

    Highways are only truly netting $5B/yr of GR money, or 12% of authorized spending.
    Transit is at least 90% subsidized, with 50+% of revenues straight out of the short pockets of drivers/truck-trailer buyers, and 30% from GR.

    You can try to spin it anyway you want, but that’s how the cow eats cabbage.

  • “Boothless” or wireless tolling (RFID or other technology) would address this gross example of socialist distortion that charades as American free enterprise. Our car-based transportation model is extremely inefficient, highly damaging to our environment, and makes daily life dangerous, noisy, and a pain in the @ss. Time to suck it up — there just isn’t enough money to pay for all of the extremist, entitled and exclusive motorists out there. Time to ride a bike, take the bus, and ride Amtrak. Our current model and post-war experiment failed and the numbers show it. Let the free market have at least a little bit of wiggle room — instead of the $1 trillion (goo.gl/pQJKU) needed to keep funding this massively subsidized inefficiency called cars.

  • More tolls are coming to LA. Looks like the free ride is ending whether anyone says so or not. http://laist.com/2013/01/24/expresslanes_in_san_gabriel_valley.php

  • Mulchman2000

    Cause we all live in a city, don’t we. There are way to many places that are not covered by maps transit to live up to your dream of no cars.

  • Bolwerk

    I’m tempted to say @20a16813e11e4edbea6e52abac0fda07:disqus is lying, but he probably believes every last word of crap he’s saying.

    Anyway, statistics about transit are posted here. So, to dispense with this notion about mass transit sucking the HTF dry, turn your attention to “Disposition Of State Highway-User Revenues – 2010.” Proportion of these funds diverted to transit? About 9.6% on the aggregate state/federal/tolling level. Focusing on the federal portion, it’s 9.5%. This is an operating cash flow diversion, it’s capped, and it’s a local option.

    Most importantly, it’s an amount of money that is overwhelmed by non-user fee subsidies to highways (that ~49%).

  • roadguy

    Bolwerk,

    Please review the FE-10 report of revenues/expenditures. http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics/2010/pdf/fe10.pdf

    What this doesn’t show is that 99.8% of the user fees collected are from highway sources. The report is formatted to peel off the transit allocation of road user fees.

  • Bolwerk

    @20a16813e11e4edbea6e52abac0fda07:disqus: nothing in that report implies that the bulk of user fees go to mass transit either, so I don’t know how that’s supposed to support your claim.  And why wouldn’t the ratio of user fees be about 100% from user sources? That’s how it should be.

    Operative point: nearly 50% of highway funds still come from non-user fee sources, even if you count the diverted funds as “belonging” to the highway system.

  • Thanks to Bolwerk for point out Roadguy’s dubious claims. It’s also worth pointing out that highways are incredibly expensive to maintain in the long run and the
    bill is coming due in spades for our aging and overbuilt highway system.
    Yet we continue to direct money to building MORE roads we can’t afford
    while neglecting those we already have.This continues to subsidize driving over transit which is why, even in large metros where transit is most efficient and economical, farebox recovery is so poor. Of course you have to subsidize that light rail line if it runs along that freeway you just widened without charging any tolls on it.

  • Amy Coleman

    Just to throw out a perspective on this in general.  Why would this be a surprise to learn that drivers only cover 51% of US Road Spending?  Is this not typical of almost all government spending in general?  The spending never equals the incoming money?  Is this not what got us to the point of having HUGE amounts of debt?  I mean come on, really?  How can you stand there in outrage, wagging your finger when this conversation has been going on for years.

    The issue isn’t the dollars that are spent, it’s the value system used for spending.  Just like in every American household, there are things you may value and spend money on and that varies as much as finger prints vary.  And when you collect it all together, in big, over-bloated government you get spending on each value system at its largest scale.  You get local, state and feds trading, exchanging money at such a convoluted measure (and all along the way, they all take their cut)  no one really knows what goes where.
    What I find ridiculous about this, is the idea of wanting to “fight the machine” and “kill all cars” mentality.  It’s like all things in life, if you look for it long enough, you will find it.  And information like this, presented in this fashion, are just props to support a larger idea.  But in reality, this construct exists in all aspects of government.  The government chronically and consistently takes money and indirectly spends it in other areas.  What direct use covers welfare?  Or even better, totally ridiculous research projects?  Such as 500 million to study why 5 year olds can’t sit still.  And my fav, 2.6 million dollars to train Chinese prostitutes to drink responsibly.  Really?

    Never mind the utility factors in all this.  What is under almost all road ways, especially in cities?  Utilities and tons of them, water, storm, sewer, telephone, fiber optic, electric, gas, etc.  And the most costly is in cities.  The most pollution, is in cities.  The most neglected and abused, is in cities.  Why do most cities have the worst roads?  Because of constant utility work.  Ruptured mains, leaks, damages, accidents and then there are planned changes for construction.  They also have the worst utilities too.

    I am not suggesting that some changes aren’t good, I think a little perspective is needed.  The idea that you want to financially “punish” someone who drives a car, day after day to a JOB, that pays taxes, fees and tolls that go to many, many, many, many, many other things that our country spends money on is cutting off your nose to spite your face.  I work roughly 12 miles from my home.  I drive a car there every day because riding a bike would be too dangerous, and I am an avid cyclist btw.  I have well and septic, live in a 1,000 square foot home with my wife and son.  Our carbon footprint is next to nothing.  So don’t tell me that the only future existence for mankind is huddled in cities, in small square boxes with only public transportation or bikes. 

  • Amy, I don’t know anyone who wants to “kill all cars”. I own a car myself. It’s not about punishing people, it’s about having them pay (something closer to) the real world costs of what they’re doing. Cars have huge negative externalities associated to them. They’re horribly energy inefficient, they pollute terribly, they take up huge amounts of space, and they are very dangerous. And the fact that you cannot ride your bike to work because it’s too dangerous is exactly the problem we want addressed. We don’t want cars to be eliminated so much as other modalities are given equal ground in the right circumstances.

    In populated areas, transit makes far more sense and yet over the past 60 years most of our country has poured money and resources into making driving as easy and as cheep as possible in all circumstances. We’ve decimated downtowns to accommodate vast highways and parking structures at a huge public expense. It makes no sense. If you want to talk about getting value, transit and pedestrian and bike accommodations actually garner a great deal more value in populated areas.

    We also don’t think everyone should live in a city. Contrary to your statement, while cites may concentrate pollution, they overall create a lot less of it than if an equal amount of people were spread out more. So cities are actually the most efficient way for large numbers of people to live. That said, if someone wants to live elsewhere, that’s fine. But again, they should pay the cost of that. We currently build vast road systems and large highways out to far-flung suburbs to accommodate people who wish to live out there without asking them to do much to pay for those highly expensive and inefficient roads. (That’s not even touching the zoning laws that essentially mandate large homes and the mortgage interest deduction that subsidizes home ownership.) I’ll also note that I’ll take my 100-year-old brick apartment building with hardwood floors and ornate details over any soulless subdivision home made virtually from cardboard (if you really want to start insulting where people live).

    Overall, what most of us want is mode-choice and sensible investment in transportation networks. That means investing in frequent and reliable transit systems in populated areas as well as pedestrian and cycling accommodations virtually everywhere. That doesn’t mean abolishing cars, it just means shifting the investment so it doesn’t prop them up so much. So please drop this “war on cars” argument. It’s old. It’s tired. It’s ill-informed.

  • Mulchman2000 Multi-modal – not NO cars. No need to live in the city. But understand that it all costs money. For those who do live in a city – maybe – just maybe – it’s time to pay for the cost of what it takes to support you. or is that alien?

  • Jgarone

    Isn’t it this like ” you didn’t built that business?” Everyone who eats, wears clothes, takes a bus, etc. benefits from roads…whether or not you own a car. Even if you don’t own one I’m certain that you are in one often…friends, families, taxis, ZipCar. If you know your history then you already know that the interstate highway system was built fir national defense…not so that your little Prius can bring you to the Sounders game.

  • Amy Coleman

    Alex,
     
    Understand, that I work for an engineering company and what I do, day-in, day-out is evaluate the “real world” cost of just about everything that uses energy.  So I get it, I understand the constant balance of cost and efficiency.  LEED has been my life for years now.  And I am not saying that I don’t agree with what you want to invest in, cause I do.  Very much so.  But you get it, that your 100 year old apartment building with all its wonderful character is most likely, horrible inefficient with all its energy usage, from HVAC, to lighting to water.  And while I wouldn’t ever live in those cardboard houses, they have been built with the newest, latest and more efficient systems.  It’s all about perspective and where you are standing.  That cardboard house might be half the cost per square foot of energy versus of you lovely apartment.  It’s always easy to point the finger at the guy across the street.  So it’s ok that your apartment is not efficient because you ride a bike to work, right?
     
    I would love to ride to work more, but it’s not just that its dangerous, but weather, health and many other factors come into play.  Even if I had a bike lane, how do I drop my 6 year old son off at school 15 miles one way, and then, peddle 15 more miles another way to work, and still work 8 hours and be there to pick him up on-time and peddle home, another 15 miles? 
     
    I think you missed my original point, which is, that there are very, very few things our government spends money on that is covered by direct use taxes and fees.  That’s what government does (especially federal) in almost all of its spending methods.  It subsidizes many areas of life to better the quality of life (or so they think).  The government invest in creating an affordable, quality of life for ALL people who live, work and/or have kids.  What I think you fail to see is, your construct only works great for certain people.  Works great for the young, single, active person who lives in the city.  But what about those who are aged, suffer from physical or mental issues?  Who need to be transported on a daily/weekly basis where public transportation falls short of providing for them?  Or someone who has 2-3 kids?  How do they safely take their children to school, day-care, etc?
     
    The bottom line is, you and many other people who don’t live there, are horribly offended by these mass, sprawls of subdivisions, neighborhoods with cardboard homes.  And so am I.  My house is 60 years old, made of cinderblock with hardwood floors too.  But I am offended by many things in this country.  Many things that my tax dollars do and/or don’t go to.  But that’s part of being in a system that reaches broad ideals than just your personal ideals.  And yes, you do want to punish people who have cars.  That’s the point, isn’t it?  To create a financial hardship on people who drive cars, right?  So they will drive less or be forced by financial strain to choose other means of transportation?  Am I not correct in that’s the whole point and if not, then what is the point?  To make people “pay more” or “drive less”?  So which is it?  Financial bullying to achieve your personal ideals which is exactly what I see with this article.  Let’s make them pay, so they have to drive less and be forced to invest in what I want!!   Well, let’s stop welfare to make them work!!!  You see how ludicrous that is when applied to other areas of spending?
     
    I don’t use public transportation, so why can’t I opt out of paying for it?  And let’s suppose for a minute, your construct does get implemented.  For those who drive cars, they pay for it and for those who use public transportation, they pay for it.  What if those driving cars, picked up the tab and kept rolling?  What would be your argument then?  Or would you be satisfied?  The first argument to come out of that storm would be all the statistics on the average income of inner-city vs more rural areas…  and that inner city people can’t afford it and once again, we’re back to the redistribution of money to better the quality of life for certain people…  

  • Bolwerk

    Is this a Gish gallop, Amy?  LEED is hardly a panacea. Older buildings very often are more efficient, and very few of those “cardboard” houses are exactly energy efficient no matter how modern they are.

    I don’t use public transportation, so why can’t I opt out of paying for it?

    Unless you live in a place that has it, you DON’T pay for it. And, if you do live in a place with it, you should be thankful you’re paying for the public transit instead of paying the price of all the congestion/pollution the public transit users would create if they drove.

    (Offensively enough, those of us who live in apartments and use less energy often find our bills increased by the greater demand of our neighbors in single-family homes.  But we don’t get a discount for being more efficient now, do we?)

  • Amy Coleman

    A Gish gallop, really?  Wow…  I was doing my best to create a dialog that addresses the large impacts of roadway cost.  The value system of spending that money, isn’t just about the financial cost of it.  It can’t be summed up in a single comparison.  It’s about the quality of life it represents, the quality of life it represents for everyone, those that both share or don’t share your values.
     
    I pay taxes and taxes are used to subsidize public transportation so yes, I do pay for it.  I am happy to do so.  I think it’s well worth the investment.  But what I don’t like, is the finger wagging, you’re life isn’t as noble as mine bs.  How about you point that finger at yourself.  If you want to live in a life that for you, makes less of an impact on the environment, great!  I think that is great, for you.  I would never criticize you or make you feel less for it.  It’s just not realistic for everyone in the country.
     
    It’s all about where you are standing, as to what your perspective is.  Of course the person who lives in the city, uses public trans is going to think it’s “the best way”.  Because your life in the end, reflects your values.  And for the suburb family, with 2.1 kids, two cars is going to think it’s “the best way”.  But there is much to criticize for both sides.  But it’s their choice, to choose for themselves what is best for them.  I don’t live in the city right now, because I can’t afford it.  I have 0.75 acres, 1,000 square foot home, well and septic.  All I have is an electric usage.  To find a house, in a school district that would put my son in a descent school (cause we can’t afford private), I can’t even come close to what I have now.  And, the utilities would go up substantially.  It would cost me at least $500 a month more, just to live in the city.  So I live in the “country” and not in a suburb.  I don’t live in a neighborhood or cardboard home.  I live off a county road, with mostly farms and agriculture.  I actually live next to those things called farms that ya know what, grow food.  And then, they drive that food into cities to feed those city dwellers.  And wow, I have enough land to grow a garden.  Or have my own chickens even.  And just think, I don’t pollute rivers with sewers or pipe in treated water from central plants that spends tons of energy creating that clean city water. 
     
    You see, it’s all about the attitude you have about it.  And when you poopoo all over someone else’s choices in life, you look like a conceded a—hole.  Right?  That’s how I came off in my “city dweller” comment, right?  So that’s how it comes off when people poke their critical little fingers out at those who made what they think, are the best decisions for their life and family.  And that is why the money-in vs money-out doesn’t match up for the cost of roads.  It’s more dynamic that one cost comparison.

  • Two of the largest externalities of auto-dominated lifestyles are not included in these calculations at all: public health costs and premature death costs.  

    This goes far beyond the cost of caring for motor vehicle accident victims.  Peer-reviewed public health research on multiple continents correlates car commuting with increases in heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, depression, impotence, and countless other diseases of a stressful but sedentary lifestyle.  Despite the increased accident risk of bicycle commuting, for example, bicycle commuters have on net a 40% lower risk of all-cause premature mortality than those who drive to work.  What does a >50% increase in premature death rates cost in public health spending?What does a >50% increase in premature death rates cost in lost man-years of productivity?Active commuting can reduce not only public transportation subsidies, but also public health care subsidies, welfare, and survivor benefit expenses.Let’s pause for a moment of silent prayer for the millions sitting in their cars, stuck in traffic, on the way to ride stationary bikes in a gym….

  • Anonymous

    I’m confused.  The article says “A new report from the Tax Foundation shows 50.7 percent of America’s road spending comes from gas taxes, tolls, and other fees levied on drivers.” but the page linked to says nothing about 50.7% or 51%.  In fact, it gives the percentages (average for the entire country) of 32.0% or 35.8%, depending on exactly what you’re looking at.

    Citations are very good, but in this case the page cited seems to say something else.

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