By on May 15, 2014

traffic

With 112,000 infrastructure projects and 700,000 jobs at stake, the Obama administration and Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx are both urging Congress find a way to provide funding to the United States Highway Trust Fund before the well goes dry as early as August.

Autoblog reports both parties offered Congress a four-year funding bill that would help raise the needed funds through tolling by individual states, and through closing a loophole on deferred corporate taxes on overseas earnings, which alone would bring $150 billion to the table.

In the Senate, an alternative bill is in the works that would retain funding levels at $105 billion annually with interest for six years, though sourcing the funds would come at a later date. Meanwhile, Republican legislators aren’t keen on raising taxes to fund the trust, especially during the 2014 election season.

As for why the fund is running dry, an 18.4-cent-per-gallon fuel tax issued in the 1990s hasn’t been raised in over 20 years to keep up with increased fuel efficiency among new vehicles, with more increases coming down the CAFE pipeline.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

94 Comments on “Foxx, Obama Administration Urge Congress To Act On Funding Highway Trust...”


  • avatar
    IHateCars

    This should be entertaining reading by tonight…

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    This seems to be collateral damage resulting from the generally ham-fisted way the Administration and its Congressional allies have treated the other party in Congress.

    I think the great majority of people see the logic in needing more money to maintain and improve road infrastructure (although spending the money for non-road projects like mass-transit is disingenuous), but I think its really unfair to blame higher fuel economy for the shortfall. More likely is that costs have risen substantially in the past 20 years.

    And, really, wouldn’t a mileage tax, based on vehicle weight and miles driven be better than taxing fuel? For example, diesel fuel is taxed more heavily than gasoline, presumably because the principal users of diesel fuel are trucks that create more wear than a car. But this has the effect of discouraging diesel powered cars, by making them more expensive to operate than they should be.

    • 0 avatar

      So the documented Republican policy of obstructionism, is now the fault of the “Administration and its Congressional allies” and how they “have treated the other party in Congress.”
      What a bunch of crybabies.

      • 0 avatar
        chuckrs

        There are about 470 House and Senate members of Congress, Democrat and Republican alike, up for reelection in a few months, who are dodging this. It wasn’t that long ago that Democrats had absolute control of both Houses and the Presidency. Infrastructure funding was a problem even then, wasn’t it? The inter-party blame game is a cheap distraction.

        • 0 avatar

          I call baloney!
          When did the Democrats have absolute control, and by that I mean filibuster proof absolute control. They only had a Senate majority for a few months after Al Franken’s recount win, and before Ted Kennedy died, and that was what 5-6 years ago.
          The blame needs to be put right where it belongs, with the Republicans.

          • 0 avatar
            brainy435

            Leftist all think having to deal with an opposition party was unheard of in American history before Jan 2009.

            Can see right in his comment: “fillibuster proof, absolute control.” Having to pick up even one RHINO is too hard for the Dem politicians of today.

            Hell, Obama hasn’t even had to deal with having a completely opposition-controlled congress (yet) but apparently negotiation and leadership is just beyond the man.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      “And, really, wouldn’t a mileage tax, based on vehicle weight and miles driven be better than taxing fuel?”

      This makes sense in our changing transportation world, but how to collect the necessary data for such a program? Automated monitors would be expensive as well as anathema to privacy minded people. User reporting would be cumbersome, prone to fraud, and burdensome for people to report regularly enough (weekly?) in order to keep funds flowing. And it would still face the obstacle of objections to any and all taxation by the Tea Party minded.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        Despite my best efforts to keep this not politicized ;-). Just about everyone has to have an annual emissions inspection; and with everything being electronic these days, I’m sure it would be a simple matter to extract mileage at the same time. People could be billed (or required to pay) monthly based an assumed 10,000/mile per year driving. Once the measurement is taken at the end of the year, the amount could be trued up in either direction for the 12th payment. Thereafter, people would pay monthly based on their previous actual mileage history with annual true-ups when the data are collected, of course.

        This doesn’t require Big Brother tracking devices and is essentially the same thing that happens with utilities that offer customers “level payment” plans to smooth out the summer electric usage peaks and the winter gas usage peaks (for those who heat with gas).

        And this could be linked to annual motor vehicle registration in those few states that do not have any kind of regular emissions testing.

        On the political side, it takes some cojones to blame the Republicans, who control only one house of Congress and who do not control the presidency, for everything bad that happens. There certainly have been instance where legislation is passed in the House with a combination of Republican and Democrat support. Someone just has to step up to the plate and do it.

        Of course, people will — and have argued — that this removes some of the incentive to buy fuel-efficient vehicles, but taxing vehicles by weight (which already is done with registration fees) puts some of that back in. That is, there’s one weight class under 3,000 lbs., another from 3001-4000 lbs. and another from 4,001 – 5,000 lbs., etc. So, your typical 3-row crossover is going to pay more than a Honda Accord, and the owner of, say, a Honda Fit, will pay less than the Accord. Pickup trucks and other cargo vehicles should be charged based on their GVWR, not their actual weight.

        • 0 avatar
          challenger2012

          Sir You and Mr. Loki are on to something. Tracking miles and accounting for weight of the vehicle is very doable at yearly safety inspections. It certainly would get rid of a lot a heavy vehicles that are not needed for work, such as pick-ups and cars like mine, a 4,300 pound V-8. If it became very painful $$$ to own my car, I would have no issue in moving to a smaller car. I drove 4 cylinders for years. I suspect the posers in pick-ups would have a fit, gub’mint over reach, communism, socialism, whatever. But as the costs went up, I am sure they would see the light.

      • 0 avatar
        Loki

        Could tie it in with vehicle registration. When you apply to renew registration you list the vehicle’s mileage at the time, and threaten fines on those who write down fraudulent mileage. This could be policed somewhat in states that require yearly inspections.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          How would they determine how many miles were driven in-state, and how many out of state?

          And how about all those out-of-staters that live in one state and work in an adjacent state? Or live in one country and work in another?

          Of course people who rent a car to travel or work in would get off because there is no way any state could levy a tax that would differentiate where that vehicle was being used, as in on-road, or off-road in the case of construction and maintenance workers, or in-state or out of state in the case of traveling sales people.

          The deeper we dig, the more involved it gets.

      • 0 avatar
        SoCalMikester

        we already have the system in place to account for gas taxes, which is pretty much mileage based, based on economy.

        why invent new technology, with a new bureaucracy and all the new costs THAT will entail for the same end result?

        figure out how much revenue they think theyll get, divide by the anticipated amount of gallons sold yearly, and make that the gas tax.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      “And, really, wouldn’t a mileage tax, based on vehicle weight and miles driven be better than taxing fuel?”

      No.

      Heavy trucks at 10-15,000 pounds per axle cause a lot of road damage, and their owners should pay for that, but at the passenger vehicle end of the scale the difference in wear between light and heavy cars at 1500-2500 pounds is noise.

      Pay by the mile is effectively the opposite of congestion pricing. It punishes drivers for arranging their commute to avoid traffic and effectively exempts drivers in gridlocked urban sprawl because they cover hardly any miles at 12 mph.

      • 0 avatar
        AMC_CJ

        Ever see a parkway where Heavy Trucks are not allowed? Ever notice how many times those are patched, re-paved?

        With a upcoming 70 mile round trip commute, I don’t know if I could afford a pay-by-mile program. Not to mention the privacy problems, tracking systems I would need for 6 cars, etc.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        Good point about the truck damage. Overloaded trucks cause far more damage than the value of the taxes they pay, especially when shortened life of the pavement is included. The Merritt Parkway in Connecticut doesn’t allow trucks, commercial vehicles or even buses, and most of the original 1938 concrete is still in place. Concrete pavement on the interstates needs planing, slab replacement and spall/crack repair after only 20 years, and the entire lanes used by trucks need to be replaced after 30 years. The car-only lanes hold up for 50-60 years.

        • 0 avatar
          Onus

          Hello fellow nutmegger.

          How is the Merritt? My truck being 8600lbs gvwr stops me from taking parkways. I’d love to take the Wilbur Cross to new haven but get stuck on 91 instead

          I know my section of 84 here that is concrete just had a ton of work done on it. They cut out huge damaged sections, used some fancy concrete that dries stupidly fast, and grooved the whole concrete part to make in anti slip. I believe this section of 84 was built in the 80’s ( east of hartford portion between east hartford and vernon, probably the nicest stretch of highway in ct. ).

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        Today, there are no passenger cars that weigh 1500 lbs. sold in the U.S. today. My Karmann Ghia that I owned in the mid-1970s weighed 1500 lbs. My BMW Z3 roadster weighs 2700 lbs. Most passenger cars weigh between 3,000 and 4,000 lbs. Unibody CUVs weigh over 4,000 lbs. BOF SUVs over 5,000 lbs.

        Those are meaningful differences. Over the road trucks already pay cargo capacity-based use taxes.

        The problem you raise has nothing to do with whether or not a motor fuel tax is a good way of funding highway construction. Indeed, the question of whether semi’s pay their “fare share” has been debated for decades.

      • 0 avatar
        chuckrs

        If you don’t drive on a road at all, environmental damage will destroy it anyway. You need a right to use fee accounting for that and then you need a damage repair fee. The right to use would be a flat fee and the damage repair fee would be (loosely) based on the 4th power weight ratio damage equation. Your 6000 lb SUV does 16x the damage of my 3000 lb small car and a 80000 lb five axle semi does 30000x the damage (16000/1500 ^^4 times 5/2). You’d adjust the semi estimate by % of time spent traveling empty. For cars and SUVs not so dramatic a weight change and not needed. The problem is figuring out how much is paid by access fee and how much by cumulative damage fee. The gas tax per gallon looks a lot closer to an access fee than a damage repair fee.
        Anyway, if you know a politico who wants to commit career suicide, show him this. Its the !@#$%Dems fault, no its the )(*&^% Repubs fault. No, its the fault of all of them, members of the chicken party each and every.

      • 0 avatar
        SoCalMikester

        heavy trucks are already taxed, and pay fuel taxes as well. in return, they deliver just about everything everyone uses, every day.

        one thing that irks me is seeing all the tractor/trailer combos driving in california with out of state plates. these arent cross- country trucks, either- these are fleet haulers.

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      Use-taxes for roads don’t make sense. Gasoline excise was the best option 80 years ago, before the WWII bureaucracy was established. We don’t need to replace gasoline excise with something worse.

      Miles-driven per individual has little or nothing to do with the benefit received from federal roads. Furthermore, federal roads are an enumerated power of Congress via the post roads clause. DOT is a general funds program. No more scheming and scamming. Raise the effective income tax rate or make reforms to the massive spendthrift in other programs.

      • 0 avatar
        56BelAire

        Ding, ding, ding. “make reforms to the massive spendthrift in other programs”.

        Yes, government(both parties) has become way to big and bloated, too many programs, too many handouts, too many departments, too much pissing money away on pet/meaningless crap, too much corruption. Cut the entire government 5% every 5 years for 20 years = 20% cut =………plenty of money for the best roads in the world.

        • 0 avatar
          thelaine

          No sht. Plenty of money to pave the roads with the finest corinthian leather. Just make spending choices. The government itself is massively too large. Cut it. Save trillions. Build infrastructure ’till the cows come home.

    • 0 avatar
      jim brewer

      DC, you are forgetting that the roads are heavily subsidized through general revenues. About 40 cents per gallon, and the roads are falling apart. So, as a subsidy-receiver and a heavy one at that, its logically impossible for drivers to subsidize something else unless the money shunted to other surface transportation projects is otherwise enough to pay for the roads, which it isn’t. Money is fungible.

      No a mileage tax wouldn’t be an improvement. The gas tax works Ita fairly easy to administer with fairly few taxpayers and correlates very well with usage. Even worse is the idea to impose tolls on formerly free roads. Talk about something even more unpopular than a tax increase.

      I think you will win the argument, though. We will get a hodge-podge of tolls placed on formerly free (and still deteriorating) roads, a new but light-weight mileage tax, and continued general fund subsidies which will only guarantee that the roads remain in a state of slow deterioration, since the political impulse will be to minimize the general fund subsidy as much as possible.

      If it were me, I’d raise the tax 50 cents, index it to inflation, fix the roads and plan on revisiting the tax every six or seven years as mileage improves. If we close our eyes, the hit is indistinguishable from a quickly forgotten dust-up in the middle east.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      It’s the combination of increased fuel efficiency, Americans driving fewer miles, the gas tax not having been raised and the infrastructure aging due to years of neglect.

  • avatar
    7402

    The quality of roads had deteriorated a lot over the past couple of decades. Raising fuel taxes is by far the easiest way to raise necessary revenue in a way that has some relationship (however inaccurate or incomplete) between wear on roads and different kinds/weights of vehicles. Heavier vehicles typically use more fuel, it’s pretty simple.

    Perfect? No. But this is one of those cases where the perfect is the enemy of the good.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    I would gladly pay even $1/gallon to have high quality roads of adequate capacity. Cratered , rotting, crumbling congested roads SUCK !

    But I get it, here in the USA minting billionaires matters more than infrastructure, and giving taxes a bad name in the public’s mind is instrumental to creating the political climate that makes this possible. USA # 1 !

    • 0 avatar
      asapuntz

      In my experience, adequate capacity is short-lived, as the population quickly redistributes itself to fill any excess road capacity.

      Most of the interstates have exceeded their design life, so it’s no surprise that they’re crumbling fast. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out they’re also way over their design loads. We can rebuild them, but it’s going to cost a lot, since some semblance of traffic flow has to be maintained.

      The 2008 recession was a great time to start infrastructure upgrades, with low traffic, low construction costs, and low borrowing costs – but “stimulus” became a dirty word for 50% of the politicians.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        To build those interstates in the early 1970s, the cost was about $150,000 per lane per mile, for concrete pavement. To dig up and replace existing, with lane closures and the like, the cost on the last project I worked on in 2008 for the California Department of Transportation, was $1.66 million per lane per mile. Part of that was increasing the slab thickness from 9″ to 12″ and the aggregate base under the concrete was increased from 12″ to 16″. The far right truck lane used 15″ of concrete. The original was 9″ in all lanes, and later 12″ for the truck lanes.

        Rebuilding the interstates will require another stimulus-size investment in the $800 billion to $1.5 trillion range. For bridge replacement, double that price tag. There’s no way increasing the gas tax or adding a per mile, or any other user tax will cover that.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Lorenzo –

          Some of this may have to do with the fact that the vast majority of the original mileage of the interstate system is in rural areas. In real dollar terms, I’d bet it costs a lot less to build new highway in Limon, Colorado than it does to replace existing highway in L.A. – everything costs more in urban areas, and costs in any urban area in California are going to be higher than just about anywhere else in the country.

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            FreedMike –

            The prices I quoted WERE for urban areas of California, since I worked for CalTrans in highway design in San Diego until I retired in 2008. I routinely looked up the original bids on sections of Interstates 5, 15 and 8 when I was working on widening projects on those routes, because I did quantity calculations and produced the engineer’s estimate for the projects.

            One caveat: right of way acquisition costs were low even in the urban areas because the interstates replaced sections of Pacific Highway for I-5, old highway 80 for I-8 and an existing county road for I-15. But Interstates in other parts of the country tended to follow/replace local roads like route 6 in many urban areas too, reducing the need to buy land. The rural stretches were even cheaper.

        • 0 avatar
          asapuntz

          10x seems incredible, but almost 5x of it is inflation. 2x to preserve traffic flow and improve durability/longevity (never mind new features like sound walls) doesn’t seem crazy.

          We also need to consider alternatives though, as it’s pretty clear that we cannot simply scale interstates to handle all our transportation needs.

      • 0 avatar
        alf42

        You can’t blame “stimulus” becoming a dirty word for the failure to invest in roads several years ago. That’s absolutely ridiculous. A $787 billion dollar package was indeed passed by a democrat controlled congress in 2008 and signed by President Obama. A large portion of it was used to pay off unions and other political allies. Only a very small percentage was used for infrastructure. Any blame for failing to invest in infrastructure at that opportune time falls squarely on the shoulders of President Obama and the democrats who crafted and passed that bill. The stimulus was a massive failure. That’s why you never hear it talked about anymore.

        • 0 avatar
          asapuntz

          fwiw, the breakdown

          http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/15/stimulus-pie-chart/

          show it to have been overwhelmingly in the form of tax breaks, benefits for those in trouble, and helping fund local gov’t functions that state coffers were unable to handle.

          There wasn’t much allocated to infrastructure, and quite a few economists felt that the whole program was seriously undersized (see Lorenzo’s numbers).

      • 0 avatar
        56BelAire

        Didn’t somebody once say something about “shovel ready jobs”?

    • 0 avatar
      SoCalMikester

      my vehicles are pretty thrifty, so an extra buck a gallon would mean paying $15/week to go to asnd from work vs $12. no biggie if it gets me smooth, safe, well marked roads.

      • 0 avatar
        RangerM

        …and just think how many poor(-er) people it keeps off of them.

        Those rich enough to afford it, can benefit from the absence of those who cannot.

        And while they’re not on those smooth, safe, and well-marked roads, they’re paid to stay home.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    How many people are on Food Stamps now? Some record no? What about unemployment, that extends out to nearly two years, right? Universal healthcare where the majority of the enrolled get some kind of subsidy check…. Not to mention the constant poking around in foreign countries and foreign aid.

    This budget problem has a pretty simple solution to me…. but I know how this works, and of course, they’ll use this “problem” to find any way possible to squeeze us out of more money and dig further into our personal life.

  • avatar
    BigOlds

    I am amazed this escapes anyone.

    The gas tax was designed to pay for the roads. Thanks to inflation, it doesn’t. We pay for the difference out of the general fund. This shifts some of the cost from the road users to non road users, at odds with the original user-pays ideal. A gas tax is a mileage tax, only less complicated. Raise the damn gas tax. Done

    It really couldn’t be any simpler, and it should be fine with both democrats and republicans.

    I know that electric vehicles don’t fit into the above, and I agree we need to figure that one out. But for now, while electrics are a small segment, just raise the gas tax.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      The cost of road building has far outstripped inflation and the need is so great, fuel would be too expensive. If Iacocca’s 50 cent gas tax had been implemented in the early ’80s, we wouldn’t be in such a fix, but adding $5-$6 per gallon to the current price, and that’s what would be needed at minimum. That kind of tax on gas would start a revolution. Besides, those non users benefit from the roads too. How do you think most stores and markets get their wares delivered? The cost of EVERYTHING would skyrocket.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      “The gas tax was designed to pay for the roads.”

      No, the federal gas tax was first implemented during the Hoover administration to reduce the federal budget deficit.

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      Even non-users benefit from roads. The Founding Fathers had figured that much out by the 1700s. Furthermore, it’s not as simple as raising federal gasoline tax. When the cost of gasoline rises, gasoline consumption will probably fall. Falling gasoline consumption reduces state revenues. States raise their gasoline taxes. Consumption declines. Federal revenues have a shortfall.

      See the problem? Gasoline excise makes sense for states who want to tax non-residents for passing through, but it doesn’t make much sense for the federal government. If anything, federal gasoline excise should be eliminated or apportioned to state transportation authority by lane miles.

      • 0 avatar
        87 Morgan

        Yes and no. In CO the registration fee is based on MSRP and the age of the vehicle. So, as the older less efficient cars are unloaded for newer more fuel efficient cars, state use fees would increase offsetting the difference. Supposedly the state fees are used for road and bridges to augment the federal funds that come in from the gas tax.

        As a side note, I am not a fan of being monitored annually about my driving habits. The gas tax per gallon allows the consumer to make a decision regarding how much tax they want to pay or not pay via their choice in automotive transportation.

  • avatar
    RogerB34

    10 cents per gallon of gasoline tax provided:
    Used for auto road and bridges only.
    Open bid contract to best and most qualified.
    No union only provisions.
    State funding first, then Federal, no exceptions.
    (Bullet Train does not have CA state funding as it failed Prop1A provisions. Obama waived CA first.)

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      The current federal gas tax is 18 cents/gallon. If you mean another lousy dime, it’s not nearly enough.

    • 0 avatar
      hreardon

      With provisions similar to what RogerB34 suggests, I’d be fully behind a $.10 – $.15 cent increase if it means that I get to drive on well maintained roadways.

      Union shops should be allowed to bid, but there should be no “union only” provisions.

      Mileage based schemes are non-starters. We would mire ourselves in that debate for decades before anything came of it, and frankly, I don’t think this country would back it for the enormous number of reasons already outlined.

      Raising taxes can be palatable even to those of us who fight them tooth and nail, if adequate safeguards are in place to ensure the efficient, proper use of those funds.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    I’m getting the impression people here don’t even know how little they pay in fuel taxes, much less how much it would cost to do the work that needs to be done. Much of what people DO pay is diverted to trains, trolleys, buses, ferries, bike paths and pedestrian measures, all locally-funded. The 18 cents/gallon federal gas tax pays for 40%-60% of local and county roads, 50%-70% of state highways and 80%-90% of interstate work, with state and local gas, sales, and excise taxes covering the rest. The backlog of deferred work would require an obscene increase in the federal gas tax, measured in multiple DOLLARS per gallon, not 10-15 cents. Congress has dawdled for four decades over funding while the backlog of deferred repair/repaving/bridge replacement has built up to crisis proportions. No nickel and dime user tax increase will work, we need a multi-trillion dollar moonshot to get back to where we were four decades ago.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      “The backlog of deferred work would require an obscene increase in the federal gas tax, measured in multiple DOLLARS per gallon, not 10-15 cents”

      US gas consumption is in the order of 130-140 billion gallons per year. One dollar a gallon would slow that down a little but still raise a trillion dollars in 8 years.

      Multiple dollars? How many trillion behind do you suppose we are?

      • 0 avatar
        340-4

        I’d start with Reaganomics, and then add the amount of lost taxes since the Bush tax cuts, and project forward.

        • 0 avatar
          geeber

          President Reagan signed an increase in the federal motor fuels tax, and another increase occurred under the first President Bush. (The final increase, in 1993, occurred under President Clinton.)

          General funds in the federal budget are not supposed to be used to pay for roads and bridges. So you’ll have to find someone else to blame.

          • 0 avatar
            340-4

            Huh. Well, having done some reading up on this over the last few weeks, I found that in fact, due to shortages coming in from the fuels tax, money is INDEED taken from the general fund to pay for roads and bridges.

            Unless I’ve been misled.

            It is the internet.

          • 0 avatar
            geeber

            I didn’t say it doesn’t happen. I said it’s not supposed to happen, and the fact that it has happened is not Ronald Reagan’s fault, given that he signed off on a motor fuels tax increase during his first term, and there were two more tax increases after that one. So, again, you’ll have to find someone else to blame.

        • 0 avatar
          TW5

          Bush tax cuts didn’t cost us anything as evidenced by the static debt-to-GDP ratio from 2003 to the recession. Entitlements have been driving the deficit for over 30 years now, Medicare in particular. If you must blame Bush, blame him for blowing an extra $1T on Medicare Part D.

          • 0 avatar

            Don’t forget about two wars, off the books no less.

          • 0 avatar
            TW5

            The war is largely immaterial as well. Entitlements for senior citizens are weeds killing off all of the flowers and food.

            You’d never let grandma and grandpa eat the food off of their grandkids’ plates, and most grandparents would never do that to their own progeny anyway. Yet that’s how the US entitlement state works, greased by lies and misconceptions about who is paying FICA taxes and how much has been paid relative to how much will be withdrawn.

            America’s entitlement system is the worst in the developed world by a country mile. Healthcare is a nice microcosm. For $3,300 per capita, most developed nations could provide single-payer, nationalized care, or at least some sort of subsidized insurance. In the US, our bureaucrats bitch that $3,300 isn’t enough to cover seniors and the poor (1/3 of the population). We could triple tax rates, but we’d be no closer to creating a prosperous and just society.

  • avatar
    haroldingpatrick

    I have a little inside viewpoint of this issue being a state DOT Resident Construction Engineer for my county.

    The national and state road system is failing much faster than it’s being maintained and upgraded – mostly due to lack of funding and partly due to how politics really works combined with how government agencies work.

    Yes, there is inherit inefficiency in any large organization like state and federal agencies. Guess what, road maintenance and construction are funded by both sources and sometimes local funds as well with federal dollars paying a greater share of construction on primary and Interstate routes. The point being is that federal bureaucratic B.S. is combined with state bureaucratic B.S. – both of which are highly influenced by the local, state, and federal political machine. Politicians who raise taxes don’t get re-elected for the most part, at least in SC. They are not bad people, they really are trying to take care of their constituents – which leads to turf defense, not a rational approach to road and bridge maintenance and upgrade. The engineers don’t really decide how the money is spent, a bunch of politicians fighting tooth and nail for their part of the pie do. We present them with the options they want to hear. Rock the boat and you get thrown overboard.

    A hard rain is going to fall. It’s going to get much worse before it gets better.

  • avatar
    Freddie

    The original purpose of the federal gas tax was to build the interstate highway system. Mission Accomplished! State and local road agencies ought to be able to take it from here. Abolish the federal tax and federal highway programs. Let individual states decide if they want to raise their own fuel taxes. Voters may be more likely to support tax hikes if they know the money will go directly to local projects instead of being funneled through D.C.

  • avatar
    highdesertcat

    Normally, I would chime in on the side of Funding Highway Trust because I use the roads, interstates, highways and byways of America a lot.

    But in view of the mismanagement of funds, wrongful application of same, and downright fraud committed by contractors performing the work, it’s hard to support this miserably failed federal program.

    Better to charge a toll for the hi-speed roads than to fund a system that wasn’t right from its inception.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    The factor no one’s really talking about here is that the NATURE of roadbuilding has changed a lot since the Interstate system was being developed, or even since the 1980s, for that matter. Back when the system was being built, the overwhelming majority of the mileage consisted of long stretches of rural highway, which isn’t cheap to build by any means, but the basic rural Interstate is still the same basic configuration it was 40 years ago, and aside from things like maintenance or redoing roadways, we haven’t had to do a lot with it since.

    But since then, the country has become a LOT more urban, and the freeway construction and expansion needed has mainly been in large metropolitan areas, which have all grown dramatically in the last 50 years. And anytime you’re talking about major construction projects in a big city, it’s going to cost more per mile than just running four lanes between two small towns in Kansas.

    The other factor to consider is this: look at the top ten metropolitan areas in 1960 and today, and you’ll find most of the really big cities 50 years ago supplanted by cities in California, Texas, Arizona and Florida today. Those “new” supercities – places like Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, Phoenix and so forth – were FAR smaller cities back when the Interstate system was planned out in the ’50s and ’60s. I’m most familiar with Denver, and it’s a good example. The freeway system back in ’60’s consisted of I-25 and I-70, and that was it – one north-south route, and one east-west route. No ring roads, no diagonal highways, no nothing. And that was fine for a city of 750,000 people, but Denver now has a tick under 3 MILLION people, and the same basic system is still in place, with a patchwork of public and private ring roads. How much would it cost to put as much freeway mileage as you have in, say, St. Louis, in this city? As I said, simply widening one part of I-25 cost about a billion dollars, so completely new highways would be unbelievably expensive.

    And that’s in Denver, which has a fairly high cost of living, but nothing even remotely as high as a place like L.A. So, not only did we have to improve the existing freeway systems in the “old” big cities, we had to basically play catch up in scores of cities that weren’t even major population centers 50 years ago, and that just adds more expense.

    Clearly we have a funding model based on a highway system designed for a long time ago…and it no longer works. We’re all going to have to pay up…or deal with the lousy freeways.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    I propose that before we all recommend spending all this money on dying infrastructure that we first recognize whether or not we actually need it.

    Autonomous driving means we don’t ever have to drive again. Accidents will essentially be eliminated. So cars can get back down to reasonable weights, and traffic congestion will be severely reduced.

    Trucks will self-monitor their weight, taking a lot of stress off the roads, and drive primarily at night, when congestion is minimized.

    Meaning you are all proposing spending a lot of money to upgrade something that may be quite adequate already, if we had automonous vehicles. So why not just push the enablers of widespread adoption of that technology? Seems cheaper, and has the side benefit of expanding productivity.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Even with all that great new technology, the number of cars on the roads isn’t going down – it’s going up. That means more new roads and maintenance on existing ones. And all that tech will come at a cost too.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        Perhaps.
        Or, demand for roads will be reduced because vehicles increasingly move at night or off peak.
        And, vehicles move more efficiently when self-driven, meaning fewer roads are needed to prevent congestion.
        And, fewer accidents mean less congestion, further reducing need for roads.
        And…, trucks self-monitor, reducing the need to repair roads due to over-weight trucks.

        Can we at least think this through and weigh the alternatives before we spend all this money?

  • avatar
    340-4

    I’ll say it again.

    This is nothing more than ‘laying groundwork’ to privatize the interstate system.

    Under the call for less government and taxes bad, Republicans will push to sell the system off – perhaps to Bain, or how about a nice Chinese company?

    From there on out, it’s GPS toll roads, baby, all for the benefit of shareholders or the Chinese.

    And not for the public.

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      If you’d look at the DoT budget, you’d have a better understanding of the problem. Gasoline purchases are much too narrow of a tax base to fund the interstate system, hence the huge tax increase necessary to keep the trust fund solvent. Furthermore, we only spend about 50% of the budget on construction and maintenance, the other 50% goes to line the pockets of Beltway policy wonks and academics who “study” the transportation system.

      Interstates are Eisenhower’s legacy. Republicans are not going to privatize, unless the lecherous wonks cannot be defeated.

    • 0 avatar
      56BelAire

      Perhaps, Bill Clinton or Algore can call Charlie Trie, and he will buy a highway.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I am all for tolls on interstate highways. I live in Maine, the Maine Turnpike is beautifully maintained, AND returns a tidy profit to the state government thanks to our tourist traffic. If you need to use it to commute, you get a healthy discount off the standard rate. Works nicely.

    But then again, I am ALL for European-style fuel prices and taxation. There is simply NO rational basis to me why the F150 should be one of the most popular COMMUTER vehicles in the country. It is simply ridiculous. CAFE is useless, but $8-10/gal fuel would have us all buying far more efficient vehicles. Start adding $.25/gal per year until we get there.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      With population density levels less than 1/6 the level of Germany, $8 a gallon gasoline would bankrupt a fair number of people, even if they swapped their F-150s for Fiestas.

      The F-150 is a popular vehicle because, in the real world, it works for a very large number of people.

      • 0 avatar
        Onus

        Your looking at it too simply.

        Where i live the population density is quite comparable to germany ( north east megalopolis ) and we still have our fair share of large vehicles.

        This is why state controlled would make a heck of a lot more sense. Which is pretty much how it is now. here in Connecticut our fuel taxes are some of the highest and it honestly doesn’t bother me.

        • 0 avatar
          geeber

          Not everyone in this country lives where you do. And even people who do live in your area still regularly drive longer distances than people do in Germany. I know, because I have visited relatives who live in Germany many times.

          My German aunt was driving a VW Polo when we last visited her. We took a three-hour drive from her home outside of Heidelberg to Bavaria. For her, that was a long drive for her big annual vacation. For us, that’s a weekend trip to my mother-in-law’s house in western Pennsylvania. And, no, I’m not making that trip regularly in a VW Polo…or Ford Fiesta or Honda Fit.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        @Geeber

        For the majority of people, anything that has four seats and starts reliably in the morning works in the real world. F150s and such are an ego trip.

        $8/gal gas is roughly a doubling of current prices. If you trade an F150 for a Fiesta you are likely more than halving your gas usage. Your costs would go down. Math, such an un-American concept.

        • 0 avatar
          geeber

          So what if owning an F-150 is an ego trip? To some people, so is owning an expensive German luxury car. Should we therefore place a big fat tariff on them to encourage people to drive more economical (and more reliable) Hondas and Toyotas?

          German luxury cars aren’t exactly fuel sippers, and they don’t have the utility and durability of an F-150. In other areas of the country, an F-150 makes more sense as a daily driver than an Audi or BMW.

          Regarding your example of the Fiesta – you apparently haven’t been to rural Pennsylvania. Even in a Fiesta, $8 a gallon gas is going to kill a fair number of budgets (and then there is the fact that a Fiesta isn’t going to cut it during heavy snows on roads that haven’t been immediately plowed after a snowstorm). The Walmart or shoe store isn’t just around the corner in these places.

          You might want to leave the New England bubble to see how the rest of the country lives before making such sweeping pronouncements.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            My BMW gets better than 30mpg on a trip. Which is largely irrelevant. What is relevant is that our fuel taxes do not even support our infrastructure. I am more than willing to pay a price that supports that infrastructure, and would choose the transportation that I could afford based on that price. And I can say that if the price of gas doubled tomorrow, I would not give it a second thought because I already drive efficient vehicles and have an efficient lifestyle. I don’t commute 100 miles a day in an F150 so I can have a McMansion in an outer suburb for $200K.

            If power and performance levels for vehicles returned to what they were in the 80’s no one would die of old age on their commute, but we would use one heck of a lot less fuel. And oddly enough, back in the ’80s we all managed to get by just fine with smaller, slower cars, even in the deep snow (OMG!).

            As to getting out of New England, I travel for a living, roughly 140 days a year, all over the country. How much time do YOU spend away from home there Geeber?

            Spoiled rotten children in this country.

          • 0 avatar
            geeber

            I’ve traveled all over the country, too. Granted, not 140 days out of the year, but if you’re traveling that much, I’m guessing that you’re spending a lot of time staying at the Embassy Suites or some other hotel.

            We’ve family all over the country, and have often stayed with family members when we visited, which gives one a better idea of how people live (and how much things cost) in a particular area.

            I’m skeptical that the view from the local hotel gives you an idea of how people live in a particular area, or how they use their vehicles. Especially since business travelers don’t tend to stray too much from the well-beaten path. So color me unimpressed, unless you are giving advice on which restaurant or gentlemen’s club to frequent in a particular area.

            If you’re on the road 140 days annually, I’m also guessing that you don’t have a wife and children. Which means your criteria for choosing a house is completely different from people who have a family to consider. (For one thing, living space becomes much more important, along with the school district.)

            Many of those F-150 drivers have second cars for their commute. I don’t know of anyone who drives 50 miles each way to work in a full-size pickup. Most of them have a commuter car. So if you think that doubling the price of gasoline will only hurt people who commute to work in large pickups, I believe you’re mistaken.

            The fuel economy of older cars isn’t necessarily superior to that of newer ones. The fuel economy ratings have been adjusted since the early 1980s to better reflect how people use their vehicles. I had a 1977 Honda Civic CVCC hatchback with Hondamatic, and it didn’t record better real-world mileage than my 2003 Accord EX four-cylinder sedan. (The mileage of the 1977 Civic was actually worse.)

            Why give up the performance, safety and comfort advances over the past 30 years because some people don’t think we “need” them? We could give up air conditioning, indoor plumbing and refrigeration, too, and save electric bills and water/sewer bills. But, they’re worth the cost.

            As for your BMW getting 30 mpg on a trip – I’m certain models of an F-series can get 20 mpg on a trip, which is quite a reasonable compromise given its capabilities. So, your choice isn’t automatically any “better” than that of the F-series driver.

    • 0 avatar
      Hillman

      I agree with you but the problem is cheap energy has lead to structural inefficiencies in society. Think about all the suburbs that are 20-50 miles away from downtown areas with no public transit and you will realize any movement on energy prices need to be small. You change gas to $8 a gallon overnight and people will not be able to afford to go to work. Personally, I would like has prices to go up a dollar a year until around $8 a gallon and keep it indexed to inflation. Take the money and put it into public transit.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        Lots of people do not want to live in the city. For those that do, fine. Go for it. Many of us do not. Technology has allowed us to have that option.

        And if fuel prices would increase, the answer for many will be, “Continue to live in the suburbs and telecommute to work (or find a job in the suburbs, as most jobs are no longer based in the city core) and shop at amazon.com.”

        It’s not going to be, “Abandon suburbs and live in 10-story apartment building.”

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      Europe’s extraordinary gasoline tax rates did nothing to further automotive technological advancement. Instead, people drive tiny underpowered cars and they used public transportation. Europe still has tepid hybrid sales and registrations.

      The US, on the other hand, was the best market for hybrids between 2001 and 2008. During most of that period, gasoline prices were under $2.50 per gallon.

      We don’t need sadists proposing more punitive taxes. Eliminating US oil imports is worth ~$200B each year. The benefits are not allocated accurately to the individuals/companies doing the work. Government can improve economic allocation, without punitive taxes.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        Europe’s “extraordinary” gasoline taxes are anything but. They are entirely ordinary and comparable to the entire developed world, exempting one nation in particular, the US.

        The American exception. We are the nation with 4% of the population consuming 25% of energy. We are the nation that treats the wars required to secure that energy as ordinary. We are the nation that sends its best and brightest off to those wars like cattle going to the slaughter house.

        Just the price to pay for another cheeseburger in paradise.

        • 0 avatar
          Dan

          “The American exception. We are the nation with 4% of the population consuming 25% of energy. ”

          So the morality of our economy is a function of third world fertility. Got it.

        • 0 avatar
          geeber

          The “we use x% of energy” theme really isn’t all that meaningful.

          Compare the heating and cooling requirements of many American regions to European ones. When we were in Great Britain in July 2006, people were complaining about the heat wave of…80 degrees.

          When we visited Dallas, Texas, in August 2007, we ran into a British tourist. He was about ready to drop over from the heat. His remark to us – “Now I see why Americans like air conditioning.”

          My German relatives often didn’t want to leave the house when they visited us in Pennsylvania during the summer, because they thought it was so hot outside. The temperature was about 85 degrees.

          Many European countries do not have the extremes of temperature that American states do, and thus don’t have the need for energy-intensive heating and cooling systems. (Before the widespread use of air conditioning, British foreign service personnel regarded Washington, D.C., as a hardship post, solely because of the summer heat and humidity.)

          It’s easy to complain about American energy use when you live in a country were 80 degrees is considered to be a heat wave.

          As for wars to secure sources of oil – Europeans use lots of oil, too. They are more than happy to let our military do the heavy lifting on that front, but don’t kid yourself. Even with high taxes, many European countries are still dependent on oil, unless they have their own source of it (such as Norway).

        • 0 avatar
          thelaine

          vogo, our energy consumption is consistent with our productivity. We are one of the most energy efficient nations in the world. Your oikophobia is all too familiar but no less disgusting.

      • 0 avatar
        Hillman

        @TW5, The goal should be to develop proper public transit and have a somewhat stable price of commuting. In most places the public transit has been gutted to the point of being almost worthless in a lot of cases. Americans are not looking at the total picture when they look at a rise in gasoline taxes if you combine the increase with public transit. $30 extra in gas a week is nothing compared to the $300 car payment and punitive insurance/ taxes, maintenance, and other fun costs that come with car ownership. I would vote today for a $2 a gallon gas tax if it meant I could live without a car.

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          Thing is, most people don’t want to use public transit. If people don’t actually want to use it, it should not be a goal to divert funds to it instead of things that are in demand, like repairing roads that people DO want to use and our economy depends on.

          If public transit can’t fund itself on the fares of people who want it, funds shouldn’t be poached to subsidize the minority.

          • 0 avatar
            brainy435

            It doesn’t matter what people want or use. The government knows what is best for people, so they should make the decisions./s

          • 0 avatar
            Hillman

            What we have now is not sustainable. Instead of paying for a proper public transit system we have allowed ourselves to become at the mercy of the car. This site is a contradiction a lot of times. It criticizes people for getting high interest rate sub prime used car loans and long term new car loans without asking how people are being able to afford commuting to work. The answer should be obvious but I guess it is better to gut the roads to keep costs down then fund a viable public transit system. Also, road users have not paid their share for years but I guess only public transit should have to be cost neutral.

          • 0 avatar
            geeber

            We have a proper transit system. We use it to move freight, not people. In the United States, we move three times as much freight per capita as any European nation.

            European nations send a higher percentage of freight by road than the U.S. does.

            The use of mass transit in Europe is exaggerated. Cars account for over 80 percent of all distance traveled in every western European country except for Austria, Denmark and Ireland. I’ve been to Europe quite a few times. You still see plenty of cars and traffic jams. The German Autobahn, for example, is often a parking lot during the height of the summer vacation season.

            On a national scale, we have a very good mass transit system. It is being used to move goods, not people, which make sense given our population density.

            The areas with dense population do have good mass transit systems. New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco, for example, all have decent local mass transit networks. Not everyone, however, wants to live in those cities, or even a city.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      krhodes1,

      “…why the F-150 should be one of the more popular COMMUTER vehicles…”

      Let us know where you get your info, but the F-150 is barely 1 of every 30 new vehicles sold. And what constitutes a “COMMUTE”? More than 5 miles? More than 5 blocks? How do you know how far people are commuting in them? Or if they’re commuting at all?

      The F-150 and other fullsize pickups are popular for they’re versatility. Family stuff, play stuff, chore stuff, camping stuff, you name it stuff. And maybe some style and whatever.

      And you don’t know that those F-150 “commuters” didn’t downsize their personal fleets, to just one vehicle that can do it all. And finally kicked that BMW to the curb! And yeah, BMW owners know all about “ego trips”!

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        I find it amusing that anyone who touts German luxury cars would accuse someone else of buying a different type of vehicle solely to boost his or her ego.

        My brother-in-law and his wife have a 2010 F-150 Lariat for their daily driver. She, in particular, loves it. He regularly uses it on the weekends to haul various large items, or visit their rural property, which isn’t accessed by paved roads. It would be pretty hard to do those things with a BMW.

  • avatar
    Kabayo

    There would be plenty in the ‘trust fund’ if they would stop squandering the money on ‘mass transit,’ bike paths, and other boondoggles, AND use competitive bidding without regard to corrupt Davis-Bacon rules.

  • avatar
    Kabayo

    The bottom line is always the same: GET THE GOVERNMENT COMPLETELY OUT OF THE ECONOMY. Everything government touches turns to shit.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I think you have to live within your means.

    If you need roads, fuel tax is the fairest system. It might not be perfect, but it’s would be quite close.

    The heavier a vehicle the more fuel it will use as a rule.

    Increase State and Federal taxes for road construction.

    It seems everyone wants everything, but no one wants to pay for it.

    The US could move towards a ‘scaled’ user pays system.

  • avatar
    50merc

    At the very least we could stop mandating construction funds be spent on “public art”. Often the diversion is 1%. Construction funds should be spent on construction, not to provide a sinecure for the esthetically privileged. Let ‘em find a Medici willing to pay the bill.

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    how about just slowly doubling the tax already? people are used to gas prices going up 20 cents in a matter of days- chances are the tax increase really wouldnt be felt by anyone


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributing Writers

  • Jack Baruth, United States
  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States