NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Searching For a Transportation Policy in California

August 29, 2001

California -- the land of jammed freeways -- has some unique transportation needs.

  • Congestion has soared from 197,000 daily hours of traffic delays in 1988 to 418,000 hours in 1998.
  • Although some state politicians -- including Gov. Gray Davis, who has proclaimed the end of freeway building -- shun the prospect of more freeways, experts say the alternative is not more mass transit.
  • They point out that state's huge metro areas are too spread out to make sensible mass transit routes viable and attract large numbers of riders.
  • Yet last year the governor allocated 68 percent of a $5.3 billion congestion-relief package to mass transit.

Experts say that new freeway lanes are the only sensible solution to the state's traffic problems. The state's extensive highway and freeway systems are reaching the end of their 35 to 40 year design life and need modernization.

Federal and state fuel taxes dedicated to transportation projects have fallen substantially over the past four decades thanks to greater fuel efficiencies in cars. Fuel taxes paid by Californians have fallen from 4 cents per vehicle-mile traveled in the 1960s to little more than one cent.

Other fast-growing states -- such as Florida, Texas and Virginia -- have adopted public-private partnership laws for highways to take advantage of private capital and entrepreneurial innovation. Experts report the world is awash in capital for toll road projects. But so far California has virtually ignored this approach.

Source: Robert W. Poole Jr. (Reason Public Policy Institute), "The Answer to Freeway Congestion? More Freeways," Wall Street Journal, August 29, 2001.

For text (WSJ subscribers)


Browse more articles on Tax and Spending Issues