NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 14, 2004

Those who suggest that raising gas taxes is the way to repair and add capacity to our interstate highway system fail to recognize that each year governments divert substantial amounts of the fuel taxes motorists already pay to projects other than roads, says researcher Ronald Utt.

In fact, at the federal level, less than 65 percent of what motorists pay goes toward road investment:

  • The rest is siphoned off by underutilized transit programs -- 20 percent of transportation spending, serving only 2 percent of travelers -- national parks, Appalachia development, magnetic-levitation research, federal lands, covered-bridge repair, air quality, hiking paths, flower gardens and thousands of pork-barrel projects, one of which will spend $200 million on a bridge to an Alaskan island with 50 inhabitants.
  • This year, Congress proposes new diversions for bicycle paths, battlefield preservation, adolescent obesity and storm-water runoff.
  • Due in part to the diversion of funds, road capacity has expanded only 7 percent since 1970, despite more than $700 billion in federal transportation spending.

As this worsening pattern suggests, Congress treats the highway program as a vast piggy bank from which to make periodic withdrawals on behalf of influential constituents.

With Congress a lost cause, Utt suggests that the federal program be capped at the level of spending the current gas tax delivers. Future growth in capacity and repair should come from greater reliance on tolls, with the resulting revenues dedicated to the roads on which they are earned, not to the politically influential. Such tolls should be entirely at the discretion of the states, recommends Utt.

Source: Ronald Utt, "Too many funds take detour," USA Today, June 14, 2004.

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