It’s Time to Stop Pretending That Roads Pay for Themselves

If nothing else, the current round of federal transportation legislating should end the myth that highways are a uniquely self-sufficient form of infrastructure paid for by “user fees,” a.k.a. gas taxes and tolls.

Highways have been massively subsidized for many years, but now it’s going to be harder to ignore. Graph: U.S. PIRG

With all the general tax revenue that goes toward roads in America, car infrastructure has benefited from hefty subsidies for many years. But at the federal level, the road gang could always argue that the gas tax paid for the Highway Trust Fund. Not anymore.

The gas tax has stagnated at the same rate since 1993, and the Highway Trust Fund has been bailed out so many times over the last decade, it’s hard to keep count. A long-term transportation bill was supposed to fix that. Instead, the six-year bill on its way to passage right now in Washington may finally bury the idea that American highways are wholly paid for by the gas tax.

Despite gas prices plummeting to barely more than $2 a gallon, and despite pressure from interest groups on both the right and left, Congress has never seriously considered raising the gas tax to cover the cost of the federal transportation program. That means roads are in line for way more subsidies.

It’s unclear exactly how much subsidy the final bill will contain, since the House and Senate bills have yet to be reconciled. But it looks like about $85 billion will be needed to fill the gap over six years. Part of that figures to come from raiding the Federal Reserve and part from a gimmicky one-shot tax on “repatriated” overseas corporate profits. Either way, we’re not talking about “user fees.”

In the House bill, the combined subsidy would account for a quarter of the $322 billion in transportation spending over six years. The subsidy will only get larger in future bills as the purchasing power of the gas tax continues to erode, unless Congress can overcome its aversion to asking drivers to pay for roads.

Federal rules even make it harder for states to collect their own “user fees” for roads. It remains illegal for states to toll existing interstate freeways. Only new highways can use tolls as a financing mechanism.

“Congress continues to shift the burden of paying for roads from drivers to all Americans,” said Tony Dutzik of the Frontier Group, an environmental policy organization, “while failing to reform a system that too often prioritizes highway boondoggles at the expense of investments that can deliver the greatest benefits for all of us.”

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that a federal transportation program freed from the myth of “user fees” might also find it easier to reform the longstanding policy bias for roads, like the formula that sets aside 80 percent of transportation funds for highway programs and 20 percent for transit.

Many of America’s peer nations, like Japan, Canada, Australia, the UK, and Germany, have been moving away from the “user fee” model, according to a recent report from the Eno Transportation Center. In those countries drivers still pay fees, but they go to the general treasury, and transportation investment is determined by other factors, like which projects are worth supporting and what they will ultimately achieve.

The problem is, Congress’s debate about how to pay for infrastructure doesn’t inspire confidence in its ability to set spending priorities. If legislators can’t muster the will to raise the gas tax a mere 10 cents, it’s hard to envision the day they’ll stop pandering to voters who think more roads will solve their transportation problems.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Big picture: a whole generation or two didn’t pay for itself.

    Among the consequences: a much larger share of those coming after can’t afford a one-car-per-adult lifestyle.

  • WalkingNPR

    Subtitle: the thing I’m going to get in a fight with my (Boomer) father about this Thanksgiving….

  • Walter Crunch

    In a way, I am glad the feds aren’t raising the tax. This will force the states to deal with it.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Yeah I miss the sequester already. I don’t see an all entitlement and defense federal budget as something to fear.

    The Feds need to pay for the needs of people — old, sick, poor, unemployed — because they move between states.

    Infrastructure and housing do not, and different states have different needs and preferences. So I’m down for you pay for yours, we’ll pay for ours, and we’ll cut out the middle man in Washington. I say that even coming from a relatively poorly run and highly indebted state.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I’m a boomer (back end). And its time that more people my age speak of for the future their children and grandchildren will inherit, rather than just themselves.

    Especially since those children and grandchildren seem too apathetic to speak up for themselves.

    But perhaps Thanskgiving isn’t the best time for the argument. Time to go eat.

  • WalkingNPR

    And I appreciate that there are some–like you–who do. It also benefits them when the day comes where the keys get taken away (My dad’s the oldest end of the generation, so that day is not that far away). He actually took the bus to positive reviews a few years back when he had surgery and couldn’t drive for awhile, but when he got the all-clear to drive it was right back to transit being a hand-out and driving being The American Way.

    Maybe if my mouth is full of pumpkin pie I can’t get in too much trouble…it certainly doesn’t hurt to try!

  • AndreL

    This would only work if states were islands without any spillover or networks effects derived from land transportation infrastructure, which is obviously not the case.

  • neroden

    The state borders are a complete disaster and create a major impediment to doing this. One reason the federal government needs to invest in infrastructure is the unsound state borders: the Philly metro area is in three states, the NY metro area is in three states, the DC metro area is in two states as well as DC, the Boston metro area is in three states, and the Chicago metro area is in two states and the commuter belt is in four states. Metro areas in two states include St Louis, Kansas City, Omaha, Sioux Falls, Fargo, El Paso, Milwaukee, Toledo, Cincinnati, Portland OR, and I think you get the idea. It makes it impossible to make simple local improvements without a tri-state commission or federal government involvement.

    City & county borders are just as bad and usually worse.

    Major urban areas which are nestled firmly in the middle of a state have, on the whole, been able to manage their own transportation a lot more effectively.

    In the UK, they actually redrew all the local borders back in the 1970s so that they make sense, which makes local control *possible*. I’m not sure this would be possible in the US.

  • catfink

    It doesn’t make sense to expect roads to “pay for themselves” through taxes and fees levied on private motor vehicles. Roads provide general public services to everyone. Therefore, roads are, and should be, funded in part from general taxes. Even if there were no private motor vehicles at all, we’d still need roads for emergency vehicles, municipal vehicles, military vehicles, emergency evacuation, etc.

  • bolwerk

    Roads for just those things would be a lot, lot, lot cheaper than roads for the personal travel leisure of nearly every citizen.

  • catfink

    A road network to provide government services (police , fire, ambulance, sanitation, emergency evacuation, etc.) to the general population would still cost hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars.

  • bolwerk

    Would? The current highway system already costs in the 12 figures annually, but it’s probably the cause of considerably more emergency services use than it facilitates. These are the routes “user fees” are supposed to pay for.

    The wider road system is more on top of that, but also harder to quantify because that includes routes that would be used whether automobiles drive on them or not (e.g., city streets). In the case of streets specifically, the routes are usually mature and have often been in use for centuries. Use by emergency services and deliveries makes sense, but those things are directly at odds with the goal of encouraging private automobile use.

  • bolwerk

    You may be right, but it’s not like continental borders always make a whole lot of sense either and they cheerfully run trains across international boundaries.

  • TomD

    Your point about state boundaries is correct. Look at Canada to see a different picture. The only Canadian city of any size in two provinces is the national capital of Ottawa, which is on the border of English-speaking Ontario and French-speaking Quebec.

  • catfink

    Would? The current highway system already costs in the 12 figures annually, but it’s probably the cause of considerably more emergency services use than it facilitates. These are the routes “user fees” are supposed to pay for.

    The routes would still be needed even if emergency services were used less. Emergency vehicles need a road to reach your house whether you use them once a week or once a year. And we can’t fund this through “user fees.” We’re not going to charge people a fee for sending a fire truck or police car to their house.

    The wider road system is more on top of that, but also harder to quantify because that includes routes that would be used whether automobiles drive on them or not (e.g., city streets).

    Again, we’d still need most or all of these routes even if there were no private vehicles at all.

    Use by emergency services and deliveries makes sense, but those things are directly at odds with the goal of encouraging private automobile use.

    I have no idea why you think the use of emergency vehicles and deliveries is at odds with the goal of encouraging private automobile use. Restricting the use of roads to emergency vehicles and deliveries only would be a huge waste of resources, because emergency vehicles and deliveries would consume only a small fraction of their capacity.

  • murphstahoe

    Sure it does. Emergency vehicles run on gasoline. So they pay user fees. They come out of the budgets for those emergency vehicles, and the usage of such is then properly priced. If emergency vehicles are a public service, then the taxes supporting said vehicles will come from the general fund and pass through to the user fees, and we can debate the value of emergency vehicles relative to their true cost.

  • catfink

    But emergency vehicles are not private vehicles. They’re government vehicles. Whether roads were funded from general tax revenues directly, or from “user fees” imposed on government vehicles, the ultimate source of the funding would still be general taxes. So, again, it doesn’t make sense to complain that roads don’t “pay for themselves” through “user fees” imposed on private vehicles.

  • murphstahoe

    You missed the analysis. Emergency vehicles are subsidized by the fact the user fees they pay are less than they should be. Thus emergency vehicles look like a bargain when we are divvying up the general fund. Maybe we’d put less into it, or decide to raise taxes to pay for them, if they were priced properly. By properly pricing in the cost of the road usage for all vehicles, we make better decisions.

  • catfink

    The issue here is funding of roads, not vehicles. How exactly would your “user fee” funding mechanism work for a road system that was limited to government vehicles only? If your house is on fire, the road obviously needs to already exist for the fire truck to get to your house.

  • bolwerk

    …we’d still need most or all of these routes even if there were no private vehicles at all

    We generally already have them, so there would be no need to build more. Without the wear and tear of POVs, they’d be, at the least, cheaper to maintain.

    …no idea why you think use by emergency vehicles and deliveries is at odds with the goal of encouraging private automobile use

    Clearly they compete for the same urban street space. Parking POVs actively interrupt curbside deliveries in large cities. The cost of the resulting wasted fuel and fines are simply passed on businesses.

    …emergency vehicles and deliveries would consume only a small fraction of their capacity.

    Referring specifically to city streets, the extra capacity could be put toward other uses that make better use of the resource like transit, biking, pedestrian plazas, or even commerce.

  • catfink

    We generally already have them, so there would be little need to build more.

    We certainly need to build more when we develop new land. And existing roads would incur ongoing costs for maintenance and repairs even if use of them were restricted to government vehicles.

    Clearly they compete for the same urban street space.

    Even if the road system were the minimum size necessary for government services (police, fire, sanitation, construction/servicing of parks and sidewalks, emergency evacuation, etc.) it would still have enormous excess capacity. A garbage truck only needs to drive by your house once a week, for example. It would be a huge waste of resources not to use that excess capacity for private transportation.

    Referring specifically to city streets, the extra capacity could be put toward other uses that make better use of the resource like transit, biking, pedestrian plazas, or even commerce.

    Public roads already are used for transit and biking. A road is not a plaza. And I’m not sure what “commerce” is supposed to mean.

  • gb52

    Sure, user fees and gas taxes do not cover the expense of building or maintaining roadways, but neither do our taxes. And that’s the problem. We all would like this magical government bank to pay for everything, but the reality is that these are public expenses. We either pay at the pump, or pay it as sales or income tax, etc. Roadways are not free after building them, and certainly we do not even have the money to build them…

  • TonesOfLife

    The users fees in the US model is through gas taxes. When a government vehicle purchases gas from a standard pump and pays that tax, it could be considered a fee.

    If we make this fee appropriate to the true cost, then we can actually compare things more effectively as in murphs example.

    While, in our current system, these taxes are so low, and so under the true cost, that analysis is harder. In other words, using a vehicle would cost more, since that is the true cost and thus may not be as favorable to other modes for example. A helicopter may be more cost effective.. Honestly an ambulance is bad example, but its usage and payment of this fee could theoretically, coupled with everyone elses (private and public) payments of fees pay for the roads. All these higher payments would represent the TRUE cost which is currently subsidized through our currently low payments (gas taxes).

    In the case of a Bus; for example, factoring the true cost of its road usage with the appropriate usage fee; a higher gas tax, rail may pen out more favorable.

    Basically, by having a disproportionately low gas tax (usage fee), we skew the market economics towards road usage even though it may not be the most “COST” effective for society or its citizens.

  • catfink

    Any gas taxes paid for fuel for government vehicles are funded from general taxes. They’re not a “user fee” imposed on the user of the government service. You don’t pay a fee each time a police car or fire truck drives to your house. The cost is shared among the general population through general taxes, without regard to whether, or how much, each taxpayer actually uses the public services that roads provide.

    So it doesn’t make any sense to claim that gas taxes are “too low” on the grounds that they don’t fully cover the cost of roads. They’re not supposed to fully cover the cost of roads, because roads benefit everyone, not just people who pay gas taxes.

  • catfink

    Of course we have the money. Roads account for only a minuscule fraction of total public and private spending. If we’re not spending enough on roads, then we should either divert more of our existing general tax revenues to roads, or raise general taxes to generate additional tax revenues for roads.

  • It’s Time to Stop Pretending That (Bike Lanes) Pay for Themselves

  • bolwerk

    We certainly need to build more when we develop new land.

    Sparingly at most, given how much potential there is for infill in American cities and suburbs. We’re already at the point where some places are literally demolishing abandoned housing, leaving roads to nowhere.

    Even if the road system were the minimum size necessary for government
    services (police, fire, sanitation, construction/servicing of parks and sidewalks, emergency evacuation, etc.)

    You forgot transit.

    I don’t see who is even suggesting that anywhere in public discourse. Street reclamation supporters typically favor appropriating streets for things like walking, cycling, and transit – the things local communities use their streets for – and typically merely favor scaled back private use of automobiles and taxis. Absolutely nobody in pro-transit and street reclamation circles fails to recognize cargo is a necessary use for streets.

    it would still have enormous excess capacity.

    Too much capacity would seem preferable to too little, as we have now, at least at rush hours.

    A garbage truck only needs to drive by your house once a week, for example.

    Ha, my house? Garbage pickup is twice a week and I’m not even sure it’s adequate for the six families in this building. Commercial garbage removal is even more intense.

    A road is not a plaza.

    I was referring to streets. A street could be a road for cars, but it doesn’t have to be.

    And I’m not sure what “commerce” is supposed to mean.

    It could mean almost anything commercial, but the most prominent retail examples of using streets for commerce are food carts/trucks and public fairs.

  • catfink

    Sparingly at most, given how much potential there is for infill in American cities and suburbs.

    “Potential” is irrelevant. We need to build new roads in all places where we build new housing and other new development. And we would need new roads to serve new housing even in the hypothetical scenario where road use was limited to government vehicles only.

    We’re already at the point where some places are literally demolishing abandoned housing, leaving roads to nowhere.

    The area of urbanized land is growing, not shrinking.

    Street reclamation supporters typically favor appropriating streets for things like walking, cycling, and transit – the things local communities use their streets for – and typically merely favor scaled back private use of automobiles and taxis. Absolutely nobody in pro-transit and street reclamation circles fails to recognize cargo is a necessary use for streets.

    As I said, we already use roads for cycling and transit (walking uses sidewalks, not roads). But the most common use of roads by far is for private motor vehicles, for both passenger and freight transportation.

    Too much capacity would seem preferable to too little, as we have now, at least at rush hours.

    Again, the point is that if roads were restricted to government vehicles only there would be huge unused capacity. That would be a huge waste of resources. That’s one reason why we do not, and never will, restrict roads in that way.

    Garbage pickup is twice a week

    The point is that garbage collection, plus all other government services combined, use only a small fraction of the capacity of the road system. Failing to allow the additional capacity to be used for private motor vehicles would be a huge waste of resources.

  • neroden

    Absolutely. The same applies to railways, which should be largely government funded because they provide general public services to everyone.

    I happen to know that you’re a troll who wants to stop funding railroads, so flagged.

  • lunartree

    They all cost money, but a fiscally responsible person evaluates all of the options and chooses the most effective per dollar. Intelligently, placed bike lanes can move people through busy corridors of cities for a fraction of the price of new roadway.

  • neroden

    No, we don’t need to build new roads in all places where we build new housing.

    Alfama District, Lisbon, has only pedestrian paths, no “roads” for autos. It’s doing fine.

    But catfink is a troll.

  • catfink

    No, troll, railways do not provide general public services to everyone. Only a small fraction of the population uses railways on a regular basis.

  • neroden

    Yeah, that’s actually getting done less and less; it was more common in the private-company era. You now have to make a lot of train changes near borders in Europe.

  • neroden

    Flagged. Mods, this is a troll; ban him.

  • catfink

    Alfama is not new urban development. It’s old urban development. And it has roads, anyway. neroden the troll is wrong yet again.

  • bolwerk

    “Potential” is irrelevant.

    You don’t seem to think so, since anything yet unbuilt is still, at most, potential.

    We need to build new roads in all places where we build new housing and other new development. And we would need new roads to serve new housing even in the hypothetical scenario where road use was limited to government vehicles only.

    Even where it’s along roads that already exist? Except for the arterials, which we over-burden, we can’t even use most of what we have now. And we use virtually nothing optimally.

    The area of urbanized land is growing, not shrinking.

    Of course it is. Even if nobody lives in them, these are still on urbanized land.

    Not to mention government policy actively encourages construction of auto-centric single family homes, which we have a surplus of, and discourages urban mixed use development, which is becoming ever more expensive as demand increases.

    plus all other government services combined, use only a small fraction of the capacity of the road system.

    I still haven’t seen anyone besides you even suggest limiting road or street use to government. What would be the point and why should anyone consider it viable? Virtually every pedestrian uses the road system, and in some sense competes for space with cars. Do you think only agents of the state should walk too?

    Failing to allow the additional capacity to be used for private motor vehicles would be a huge waste of resources.

    Certainly not if other uses can be afforded. Cars may be the only practical use for residential rural roads, but they are the least cost-effective way to use an urban street and it’s wasteful not to balance them against other uses.

  • bolwerk

    They seem to be rediscovering it now somewhat. Strasbourg may build an international light rail system. I wish New York and New Jersey could get along that well.

  • catfink

    You don’t seem to think so, since anything yet unbuilt is still, at most, potential.

    The fact that infill development is only potential means your “sparingly at most” comment is false.

    Even where it’s along roads that already exist? Except for the arterials, which we over-burden, we can’t even use most of what we have now. And we use virtually nothing optimally.

    I don’t know what “optimal use of roads” is supposed to mean. By “build new housing and other new development” I mean development of previously undeveloped land. We need new roads to serve this new development.

    Of course it is.

    Right. The area of urbanized land is growing, so the road network is growing. We need to build roads to serve the new housing and other new development in the newly-urbanised areas. There is no sign that this long-standing trend will end in the foreseeable future.

    Not to mention government policy actively encourages construction of auto-centric single family homes

    If you don’t like laws and public policies that are favorable to car-oriented development, you are free to vote and lobby accordingly.

    which we have a surplus of

    No, we don’t have a surplus of “auto-centric single family homes.”

    and discourages urban mixed use development, which is becoming ever more expensive as demand increases.

    Urban mixed use development is expensive because it costs a lot to supply. Construction costs are higher and land costs are higher. There is little demand for it, which is why we’re not building very much of it.

    I still haven’t seen anyone besides you even suggest limiting road or street use to government.

    I’m not suggesting it. I’m pointing out that even a road and street system that was limited to government vehicles would still cost a huge amount of money to build. So it doesn’t make any sense to expect roads to be funded entirely from user fees on private motor vehicles. People who don’t own or use private motor vehicles still get enormous benefits from roads, so they should (and do) share the cost of building and maintaining roads, through general taxes like sales taxes and property taxes.

    Certainly not if other uses can be afforded.

    No, even if “other uses can be afforded.” You’re not going to use up all of the capacity of roads with cyclists and buses.

    Cars may be the only practical use for residential rural roads, but they are the least cost-effective way to use an urban street and it’s wasteful not to balance them against other uses.

    To the contrary, cars are extremely cost-effective. Transit costs around three times as much per passenger-mile of travel as cars.

  • gneiss

    @bolwerk:disqus – catfink is a known troll who has recently migrated from citylab. We should work to get this account flagged and banned. It is only used to provide an argumentative discourse. A reasonable response is simply met with the “I don’t know what you are talking about”, and anything else is refuted with cherry picked data and semantic sleight of hand.

  • Edward

    Almost half of all goods transported in the US go by rail. If you don’t consider the transportation of goods to be a public service to everyone you have a very weird idea of either public service or what a small fraction is. And they pay property taxes on their right of way, unlike highways.

  • catfink

    Er, freight rail is almost entirely private. Its customers pay for it with shipping fees. It’s a commercial business, not a public service. You really need to learn the difference.

  • catfink

    But cyclists don’t pay any kind of user fee to use bike lanes. Or to cycle on regular roads. Their use of this infrastructure for cycling is subsidized almost 100% by other people — mostly drivers.

  • bolwerk

    The fact that infill development is only potential means your “sparingly at most” comment is false.

    If that is so, it would also mean your assertion that new roads are needed is false. Gneiss was right about trying for semantic sleight of hand. Weak, BTW.

    I don’t know what “optimal use of roads” is supposed to mean.

    It means that busier roads are often congested and less busy ones aren’t particularly productive, usually/ironically because they have shit-tons of space for infill. It is desirable to balance the two, assuming you want roads to to maximize their economic utility (even allowing that they can’t be profitable).

    The former problems significantly cuts into economic productivity.

    By “build new housing and other new development” I mean development of previously undeveloped land. We need new roads to serve this new development.

    Potential developments?! Easily achieved with infill. Surely you can see how much housing could fit along curb frontage here without building a single new road? The USA probably literally has tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of square miles of road frontage like that.

    There is no sign that this long-standing trend will end in the foreseeable future.

    True, unfortunately, but you can blame bureaucratic irrationality for that. It gets ever more wasteful and difficult to sustain.

    No, we don’t have a surplus of “auto-centric single family homes.”

    Then why is so much of it being abandoned? We quite literally live in a country with more peopleless homes than homeless people, and we have an absurdly large homeless problem by first world standards.

    If you don’t like laws and public policies that are favorable to car-oriented development, you are free to vote and lobby accordingly.

    Whether I like them is rather besides the point. You were claiming urbanized land is growing, as if that’s happening in a vacuum. Voracious land consumption is the product of a mix of government incentives and government coercion, hardly the product of rational free choice or even taste and preference.

    Urban mixed use development is expensive because it costs a lot to supply. Construction costs are higher and land costs are higher. There is little demand for it, which is why we’re not building very much of it.

    You aren’t paying very much attention to the real estate market if you believe that. Except perhaps for some highrises, construction costs are similar per square foot, and significantly less per unit, in denser environments. Land itself is more expensive, which of course belies your comment about there being “little demand for it,” but so what? Unless you’re a farmer, you probably only use a tiny fraction of an acre anyway.

    Of course, if you must outwardly consume more land, it would still be more affordable to build sustainable/mixed use structures than to build auto-family single family homes.

    I’m pointing out that even a road and street system that was limited to government vehicles would still cost a huge amount of money to build. So it doesn’t make any sense to expect roads to be funded entirely from user fees on private motor vehicles.

    If roads could be in theory be self-sustained through fees, the government could establish an independent body to oversee the roads and simply pay the fees for its own use. It might even be possible for highways to do just that, and that arguably is done in a few places (Germany?).

    I’m still not sure why anyone should care. I don’t even see why the government’s travel leisure is somehow more important than the general public’s. This article was addressing the (false) canard that roads are self-sustaining entities.

    People who don’t own or use private motor vehicles still get enormous benefits from roads, so they should (and do) share the cost of building and maintaining roads, through general taxes like sales taxes and property taxes.

    Perhaps, though going by trends in federal and sometimes state government spending we get significantly less than we pay out to support less economically self-sufficient suburbs and rural areas/states.

    No, even if “other uses can be afforded.” You’re not going to use up all of the capacity of roads with cyclists and buses.

    You don’t want to use up all capacity ever. Roads work best with free-flowing traffic. If you use up more capacity than necessary for that, you get congestion.

    A lot of people don’t like Midtown Manhattan because it has no capacity even for walking. That could perhaps be fixed, if 75+% of a street’s users weren’t confined to a fraction of its space. (Car drivers/passengers are probably a few percent of actual users at any given time.)

    To the contrary, cars are extremely cost-effective. Transit costs around three times as much per passenger-mile of travel as cars.

    Hmm? As I recall, the IRS lets me deduct 56 cents/mile for my business purposes. That is, of course, the cost to the driver, not the cost to everyone else, which I have no idea how to quantify except to give you a floor in the hundred billion range going by FHWA statistics.

    I’m aware of suburban bus operations that cost 90 cents/passenger-mile to operate, and rail can be significantly cheaper than that (44 cents for the NYC subway). I know you hate potentialities you don’t conjure yourself, but the possibility for driverless transit in coming years could probably reduce that cost if the FRA, FTA, and transit unions allow it.

  • You can’t stop something that never started.

  • lunartree

    The reason subsidizing biking is fiscally conservative is lets say you have a thriving economy and your roadway needs to move 10% more people and an environmental report shows many of those drivers would bike if possible. If you had and option between the average $60m/mile cost for constructing additional freeway vs $200k/mile why wouldn’t you? Yes, you might run into the fact that you’ve helped people who didn’t pay, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re spending driver’s funds in the most cost effective way. You’re putting your ideology ahead of common sense which fiscal conservatism is supposed to be based on.

  • Patrick Devine

    Canada does have cities and municipalities which border on each other which cause zoning issues that lead to poor infrastructure allotment. Not quite the same thing, I realize, but it does result in problems.

  • 66 City

    Claiming that “roads benefit everyone” is absurd. We can easily distinguish between a heavily used road in a city (Geary Street, San Francisco), and a road that serves a tiny few (a random cul de sac in suburban San Ramon). Only Geary Street can even begin to claim that it benefits everyone.

    We’re cursed with a huge number of roads (and arterials and freeways) that serve a tiny number of suburban residents. It’s a huge problem for American society that urbanized residents who have little to do with the suburban/freeway/sprawl matrix must pay for the creation and upkeep of suburban sprawl — surely the most insane way to organize a society every devised.

  • I have heard of one city which solves this problem: Lloydminster, Alberta/Saskatchewan. That’s one city that sits in two provinces, as opposed to two neighbouring cities sharing the same name such as Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri. Both provinces have agreed to share jurisdiction.

    Still, I doubt that that example could be applied to New York City; a combined super-city that included the five boroughs (or maybe four — let’s use this fantasy as a chance to shed Staten Island) and Hudson County should be independent of the states of New York and New Jersey, not subject to shared jurisdiction.

  • Ken

    It’s not a mater of whether the service benefits everyone – it’s whether it’s a public good or a private good. The latter you can choose whether to use it and how much and there’s a finite supply. It responds to market forces, supply, and demand. That’s roads, parking, utilities, etc. Public goods tend to be things like national defense and clean air. You can’t choose how much you “use” or whether you use it. Roads are really public goods, but by failing to capture external costs at the point of purchase, it appears underpriced or free, which. Raises demand.

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Eno: Stop Obsessing Over the Gas Tax and Change How We Fund Transpo

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Twenty years ago, Japan’s electoral reform redistributed power, giving urban constituencies a greater voice. One result: Japan eliminated its version of the Highway Trust Fund, which urban voters saw as satisfying the interests of the construction lobby, not their own. If city-dwellers had a greater voice in the United States, would the same thing happen? […]

How MAP-21 Pushed Transit to the Edge of Its Own Fiscal Cliff

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Congress has seven weeks to come to some sort of agreement on the so-called “fiscal cliff,” with two of those weeks devoted to photo ops and turkey dinners. The consequences are real: Transportation programs paid out of general fund transfers to the Highway Trust Fund, rather than gas tax receipts, are not exempt from the automatic spending […]

Yes, Transit Belongs in the Highway Trust Fund

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As gas tax revenues wane, making it harder to finance a long-term transportation bill, ideas are beginning to circulate about how to save the (very poorly named) Highway Trust Fund. Some say the gas tax needs to rise. Others say fewer programs need to be financed out of the fund, which pays for all federal […]