Skip to comments.For Good Highways, Use Tolls and Ditch the Gasoline Tax
Posted on 03/11/2014 8:20:10 AM PDT by Kaslin
Last month, Barack Obama traveled to snowy St. Paul, Minn., the same place where in the sunnier days of June 2008 he predicted that his clinching of the Democratic presidential nomination would be remembered as "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and the earth began to heal."
This time in St. Paul he addressed a lesser problem, one within the ambit of a president's powers: transportation.
He mentioned the most common form of transportation -- auto travel over streets and highways -- only in passing. Instead, he hailed St. Paul's "spiffy new trains," one of which was derailed downtown two hours later.
But he did make one very practical and sound point. And that is that you have to find a way to pay for these things.
What he failed to mention is that the funding source for federal transportation spending is drying up, in part because of his own policies. That's the federal gas tax, enacted as part of the Interstate Highway program in 1956 and last raised in 1993.
Gas tax receipts are on a downward trajectory, for multiple reasons. One reason is that people have been driving less, and not just because of the recession. Average monthly driving, the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center reports, peaked at 900 miles in 2004 and was down to 820 in 2012.
Young people, glued to smartphones and video games, are less likely to drive or even get driver's licenses. Commuting is down, with employment still below pre-recession levels.
And the Obama administration raised gasoline mileage standards to 35.5 mpg in 2016 and 54.5 mpg by 2025 -- far above the 2013 average of 23 mpg. These sharp increases mean that less gas will be sold and much less revenue will be generated by the 18.4 cent per gallon federal gas tax.
In addition, the government is promoting hybrid and electric cars, whose owners pay less or no gas tax -- even though they cause wear and tear on highways. Owners of natural gas vehicles -- promoted on a bipartisan basis by Sens. Jim Inhofe and Carl Levin -- would pay no gasoline tax at all.
This has left congressional transportation committees in a quandary. Raising the gas tax is considered highly unpopular. Obama's solution in St. Paul -- "simplifying the tax code" -- doesn't seem to be in the cards any time soon.
All of which undermines the argument that the gas tax is a user tax, in which those who use roads tend to pay for them.
Fortunately, there is another and better kind of user tax available. That, as the Reason Foundation's Robert Poole has argued, is per-mile tolling.
Poole proposes that limited-access highways -- interstates and expressways -- be funded by tolls. He would leave local streets and rural roads to be funded by states and localities.
The technology is available. Transponders are used to assess tolls today in California's Orange County, Dallas County in Texas, and Northern Virginia. The charges go to your credit card, and you hardly have to slow down through the toll plaza.
Computer-generated tolls are a superior form of user fee. They tie revenues to the highways in proportion to their use, and can be adjusted to reflect the cost of maintenance and improvements.
Per-mile tolling also would eliminate the use of federal gas tax funds for ancillary forms of transportation -- subways, light rail, bike paths and trails -- which have been gobbling up revenue needed for highways. States and localities valuing such amenities could pay for them.
Tolling would also pay for proper ongoing maintenance. Too often that is left unfunded by local officials or congressmen eager to cut ribbons on new projects.
In addition, per-mile tolling would enable public-private partnerships or private firms to fund construction or operations by borrowing in bond markets instead of paying for future needs out of current funds.
That's already happening too: The Canadian government is funding the new Detroit River bridge through a public-private partnership.
Private firms would have an incentive to keep roads in good shape. Otherwise, traffic and toll revenues would decline and profits would disappear. And per-mile tolling can also reduce traffic congestion by varying fees according to usage or time of day.
The gas tax worked tolerably well for nine decades. But technological progress, behavioral change and government mandates have rendered it obsolete.
It's time to pay for highways not at the gas pump but through the transponder.
Mr. Barone has obviously never driven the Pennsylvania Turnpike
The Barone article was already posted here:
You beat me to it. Beyond the condition of the turnpike itself are the highly overpaid toll booth workers. Miserable people.
The Chicago toll road was supposed to only last as a toll road until the tolls paid for the road. That was a couple of decades ago, the tolls are still there.
Tolls create a new industry, toll collectors and toll management. Most money from tolls go to payroll and benefits, not the roads. This of course drives up the total cost of transportation by adding an unneeded layer of excessive costs.
Ditto the Ohio Turnpike.
The bonds were paid off in 1989. The toll booths were supposed to come down at that point. They are still there.
You will get the tolls and keep the gasoline tax.
The way the government works, they’ll bring back tolls and keep the gas tax ..... then you can sit in long lines at the toll booths and burn more gas, thus adding tax revenue. Of course, I’m sure the toll collectors needed will be unionized. What’s not to like? [snark ... or maybe that should be ‘snarl’]
The gas tax is 18.4 cents a gallon. My car gets about 30 MPG, so the tax works out to .61 cents per mile, or 163 miles for each dollar of tax.
I live in New Jersey. The New Jersey Turnpike is supported by tolls. To drive from the Delaware Memorial Bridge to Exit 11 (my exit) costs me $7.25 for 90.6 miles, with works out to 8 cents per mile.
So the Turnpike Toll costs me 13.1 times as much as the gas tax!
I have no problem with usage fees instead of gas taxes... tomato/tomahto... But I got a big problem with a 1310% tax increase. And I suspect the usage fees are going to be a lot closer to the NJ Turnpike Tolls than are to the Gas Tax.
Tolls? Tolls? Are you kidding?
Obozo's new simplified tax code will consist of two parts; Part one - How much did you make? Part two - Send it in.
“Hey, how did you manage to get this Federal toll booth job?”
“I flunked out of TSA school, dude!”
We actually lost our one toll booth in Atlanta. There was a toll plaza erected on i-400 to pay for it. It actually came down recently.
Toll roads are stupid. A gas tax has almost no additional employees where a toll requires a huge number of people. Toll roads are in better shape because the vast bureaucracy associated with regular roads and the relatively few miles of toll roads.
This guy is full of it. Look at this:
“Per-mile tolling also would eliminate the use of federal gas tax funds for ancillary forms of transportation — subways, light rail, bike paths and trails — which have been gobbling up revenue needed for highways.”
Duh. Really? Ever think of this:
“Per-mile tolling also would enable the use of toll funds for ancillary forms of transportation — subways, light rail, bike paths and trails — which have been gobbling up revenue needed for highways.”
Ditto the NY State Thruway, the bonds were paid off I believe in 1994.
Simple (and expected) solution is to require that all vehicles be equipped with E-Z Pass. Then they simply set up transponders at intervals and tax you permile driven.
Already do that with MD-200 and they photo your license and send you a bill if you don’t have E-Z Pass.
“Computer-generated tolls are a superior form of user fee.”
Seems like a way for “the state” to track who goes where when.
SWEET! Government tracking devices in all cars.
IMO, the gas tax makes the most sense and is the fairest way to pay for the cost of the roads. Heavier vehicles use more fuel and pay more per mile, which makes sense because they cause more road wear per mile than lighter vehicles.
Now if we could just get them to properly use the taxes collected.
Gas and diesel state tax in Texas is .20 per gallon. That does not include federal tax, which is most assuredly more than state tax. So we are talking .45 per gallon.
So, 20 gallon tank and your tax bill is $9.00.
If you drive the toll road, you could pay $6-$14 depending on length of drive each way, each day. What has happened to this once free country?
Regardless, they have us by the short hairs. They are not going to give up either source of revenue.
LOL! [and likely from the annals of ‘sad, but true’]
The Federal Gas Tax is one tax for the whole country. You try to raise that, and there is a political price to be paid. The state gas taxes are resistant to change, because local legislators know they will lose votes if they raise them.
But if there are a thousand little road use zones, each with its own tax rate, each rate can be raised, little by little, with hardly any objection from the taxpaying population.
So the per mile usage fee will increase exponentially, while the Gas Tax has stayed the same for years. The first person who expresses surprise when this happens should be put up against the wall.
Gas taxes force those who use heavier vehicles to pay more, as they do more damage to roads. They motivate higher mileage cars better than mandates do. They are opaque to the government. They require no new infrastructure. There is minimal possibility for an invasion of privacy.
Barone is being a statist troll here.
And just what entity would be in charge of COLLECTING these tolls?
Likewise which one would be responsible for MAINTAINING the road?
Tolls and gas taxes always go up here in PA but the roads actually seem to get worse.
Small laptop to fit over your plate.
Pictures of various state officials license plates.
Slide show them as you drive.
You are getting them anyway...
OnStar. How may I help you?
What’s a toll booth?
Oooooh...finally, a truly useful tablet app!
Look for bootleg copies of prezzie-limo plates, better known as ‘The Beast’.
Oh the possibilities. Cunning you are. ;>)
Taxes never die. Ever.
The further Barone strays from his area of expertise, the stupider his pieces become.
The way things are around FR these days, it’ll be posted at least two more times. Maybe three.
This crazy idea benefits only those living in major cities with a cross town form of public transport.
What the author prescribes will result in driving more people into urban centers,increasing house prices,reducing the road usage tax base,decreasing vehicle sales,and increasing transportation costs for foods and goods.
Interstate 80/90 through Ohio and Indiana is pretty much the same situation, lots of through traffic that need not stop in the state.
Of course, if you do stop and fuel up, you are double paying for your driving, once by toll and once by gas tax (and maybe a 3rd time via the jacked up monopoly prices at the on-highway service stations). That really makes the politicians smile.
In MN, the idea of a toll road is just a ploy to get approval from the voters who will all think that it's some other guy who's paying the bill. Eventually, more roads will have tolls and the poor driver/voter will eventually find that they are double paying for their driving most of the time, once in tolls and once in gas tax.
We had a similar situation with GA 400, a tollway in Atlanta. Though later than promised, and only after considerable public outcry, the toll booths are coming down right now, no more tolls are being collected. I think they stopped last October.
Let’s just go back to the barter system too, while we are at it. /s
Just one question.
How will that prevent income from being diverted to welfare, Obamaphones, throw-away school lunches, Medicaid insurance subsidies, Union subsidies, pie-in-the sky alternative energy, Obama propaganda web sites, Community agitation, checks to foreign enemy nations, etc.?
Ditto the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
The original 25c toll was enough for eternal maintenance, until the criminal politicians had a "better" idea...
That's what Gov. Rick Perry had/has in mind for Texas. His "Trans-Texas Corridor" idea flopped bigtime, esp. when people found out it was part of some international Big Rich conspiracy to deliver Chinese goods to Ohio Wal-Marts without ever being touched by American workers' hands, until they were physically picked up and inspected by American customers.
The idea was, from China in Chinese bottoms to American ports in sealed containers, then by Mexican longshoremen and truck drivers to an "inland port" and Mexican revenue inspectors in Kansas (or Texas), then onward again by Mexican truck to the Wal-Mart dock in Cincinnati, where it would be offloaded by a Mexican lumper overseen by a Bengali or Hindustani receiving manager and put out on the floor by wet immigrants making $3.00 (after deductions).