The U.S. Wants to “Borrow” From Transit to Pay for Highways

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said yesterday that due to declining gas tax revenues, the Highway Trust Fund would need to borrow money from its mass transit account to pay for road projects. Today’s big news story was buried at the bottom of page A17 in the New York Times:

Gasoline tax revenue is falling so fast that the federal government
may not be able to meet its commitments to states for road projects
already under way, the secretary of transportation said Monday.

secretary, Mary E. Peters, said the short-term solution would be for
the Highway Trust Fund’s highway account to borrow money from the
fund’s mass transit account, a step that would balance the accounts as
highway travel declines and use of mass transit increases.

Meanwhile, America’s historically underfunded transit systems are also struggling with rising fuel prices and record demand. No word yet on how taking money away from transit to pay for highways fits in to George W. Bush’s plan to end America’s oil addiction but maybe time for Americans to take a good, hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves what kind of nation do we want to be?

  • I did hear her on the radio this morning pointing out that it’s bad that it’s easier to fund highways than transit…

  • Jason A

    I guess it’s too obvious a point to make but, why are we even bothering to build more highways when VMT is down and continues to drop?

  • Larry Littlefield

    The only way this doesn’t increase the deficit is if the Transit Fund isn’t paid back.

    Kind of like the Social Security “Trust Fund.” Why don’t they “borrow” from that one, since most of the people my age don’t believe they’ll be getting it anyway. Because every single extra dollar paid into Social Security over and above the amount paid out IS being borrowed already. And in just a few years, as the baby boom retires, that “surplus” will become a “deficit.”

    Where will the federal government get the money to pay Social Security back, let alone transit?

  • whoa

    aaron, i definitely share your frustration, but that meth link is way over the top

  • If Bush’s Dept. of Transportation is going to be true to the administration’s “conservative” identity, it should be privatizing the interstate highway system. That would either leave more public funds for transit — or the fed DOT could simply shrink itself to oblivion and get out of the transportation business altogether.

  • that meth link is awesome.

    oh yeah, this plan is brilliant which is why i’m sure Bush will back it 100%.

  • This reminds me of all the money that’s been “borrowed” from the Social Security Trust Fund to pay for various things. You know that “Social Security Crisis” It wouldn’t exist if the “borrowed” money had been paid back.

    I want to drown the Federal Highway Administration in Grover Norquist’s bathtub.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Bush’s Dept. of Transportation is going to be true to the administration’s “conservative” identity, it should be privatizing the interstate highway system. That would either leave more public funds for transit — or the fed DOT could simply shrink itself to oblivion and get out of the transportation business altogether.”

    I’ve as much as proposed this — have the federal government ditch (partially state funded) Medicaid in favor of a universal health care funding, which would also take away some of the burden for public employee and retiree costs.

    And in exchange, have the feds simply stop funding a whole bunch of joint federal/state/local stuff, like transportation, housing, farm aid, “economic development,” pork. Just get out of the business, and leave it to state and local.

    The highways wouldn’t have to be privitized — they are state owned. And what if one state, in the middle of the country, overcharged in tolls or let the highways fall apart. Leave aside the fact that this is already happening on the fall apart side. Railroads would still go through that state, and airplanes would fly over it.

  • Paul

    The gas tax is only 18 cents!!! Make it $2.00 flat tax and then you’ll have your money.

  • J. Mork

    Prolonged methamphetamine use makes your hair longer and spikier. Who knew?

  • Well, Paul, that’s a little drastic. But, we could do what Germany and some of the other EU countries do… have predictable increases in the gas tax, yearly. If we committed to raising the gas tax $0.10 per year for the next 10 years to get it to a reasonable level and then add $0.03 per year forever then we’d start making a dent.

    As for this proposal… how stupid can you be. It’s like we’re lost in the mountains and instead of eating the tourist for food we eat the mountain climber. Now we’re all stuck… well, not me… I have my bike 🙂

  • joe bloggs

    “If Bush’s Dept. of Transportation is going to be true to the administration’s “conservative” identity, it should be privatizing the interstate highway system.”

    Surprisingly, but not really, the current USDOT is more into “progresive” transportation policy than probably any other DOT administration in recent memory. Don’t read too seriously into Mary Peters (and USDOT) based on this article. Bush said he won’t raise the gas tax, so there’s nothing Mary Peters can do about that. I think that she is for raising the gas tax, but lets face it, with everyone crying about the high price of gas, it is a politically unviable position. Obama has gotten around raising the gas tax by saying there needs to be more investment in transit.

    Mary Peters and co. vociferously support congestion pricing for airports, parking, and roadways. She is also a big proponent of privatization. Peters and Co. are big market proponents not because they think governmetn is too big or too intrusive or whatever –but because they think a market-based approach is more efficient and more equitable.

    Despite these claims, many people think that privatization of transportation infrasturcture is inequitale because maybe some might be unable to use it. That’s the kind of philsophical debate at the center of the privatization debate for our roadways – are we entitled to free and unlimited access to roads? In the vast majority of the country the rail transit options are nonexistent or extremely poor meaning that many of the naysayers have a point. If you price these people the road (if you hand over a highway to a private company that jacks up the toll), person x is priced out of all realistic mobility options.

    The fact that the highway trust fund needs money is a true need. Whether you like it or not, our roads are crumbling and we need to repair them. There is actually relatively little expansion of the highway system nowadays. Sure there are some projects, but it’s not like we’re building a new nationwide network. We also need money for new trains, new stations, and better rail links.

    Call me crazy, but I think the time is ripe for a new funding formula for roads and highways. Hopefully the next transportation bill will attempt to solve this problem.

  • joe bloggs

    I meant to say the time is ripe for a new funding formula for “transit and highways”

  • Dave

    – Toll all highways to recoup the cost of their construction and upkeep. Reverse the common thinking and let trucks pass for free and only toll automobiles (inflation will be bad enough without transport costs rising)
    – Mandate commuter taxes for urban areas served by transit (and by this I mean NYC, with the demise of pork-barrel-NYC-hater-scumbag Bruno isn’t it time to bring backl the commuter tax to NYC?)

    But of course if we can’t implement CP due to the pathetic antics of Silver, Glick, Brodsky and the others what hope do we have ofr any progress? By the way what does Deb Glick have to say about transit fare increases since here unbelievable and unjustifiable vote against CP? Silver, Fidler and you all…what are you saying NOW?

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Silver, Fidler and you all…what are you saying NOW?”

    Quoting Nelson Munz: “Ha Ha!”

    Remember, the political class doesn’t use public transportation. It doesn’t send its kids to the regular NYC public schools, just “special deal” schools, private schools, or suburban schools (as many of the public employees, especially the teachers, live in the suburbs). They don’t rely on public parks and public libraries. And they get rich health benefits most Americans do not, so they definately do not go to public hospitals and health clinics.

    And once they start drawing public pensions, they don’t pay state and local taxes either.

    Quoting Lilly Tomlin: “We don’t care. We don’t have to”

  • this is a sign that things are really, really bad for this country. even worse than i thought.

    it insists on spending money for roads that fewer people are using and it doesn’t even have any money left over from it’s wars and financial industry bailouts to do that with, so it steals from an even smaller fund devoted to paying for types of transportation that more folks are using.

    it’s not even *that* much money – $3.1 billion for roads vs. $100+ billion a year for iraq and $200 billion for fannie and freddie bailouts. $3.1 billion is a drop in the bucket and it doesn’t even have that.

    like oh my god, we are so like totally fucked.


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