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.
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