An April 15th, 2012 WSJ Opinion Piece titled: Why Your Highway Has Potholes calls for decision making on transportation to be made at the state level, and more spending on roads. If you are interested in land use/transit/urban issues, you probably know about our urgent need to pass a meaningful transportation bill in this country. Read on about why these suggestions are a bad idea:
First of all, decisions on transportation are already made at the state level, as most federal funding for transit is via a “matching funds” policy which requires the city/state to demonstrate a local commitment to funding. Federal funds such as the “New Starts” program are then doled out based on a scoring system, unless these funds are “earmarked” by members of the House and Senate, which essentially is state usurping of federal funds.
Second, since 2005, the federal highway trust fund has consistently paid out more that it has received from contributions via the gas tax. Period. With two exceptions, all states receive more than they pay in.
Third, the gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1991. It is not indexed to inflation or a percentage of fuel prices. Let me say that in another way. Since 1991, the gas tax has been set to 18.4 cents per gallon. To get the same amount of buying power as it did in 1991, the gas tax would have to be 31 cents, based on inflation rates. The average state-imposed fuel tax is 28 cents per gallon (which further illustrates point one).
Fourth, adding lanes and building highways does not relieve congestion. In fact, many studies show that it induces more vehicle travel than it relieves. Transit spending encourages the development of walkable, bikeable communities that aren’t completely dependent on the automobile.
Fifth, building new roads and transit lines is irresponsible without careful thought of the land use implications. New highways encourage sprawl development, a car dependent environment which consumes agricultural land and open space. Let me rattle off a few places where this has recently happened within the past 30 years: Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh, all of San Bernadino County, all of Orange County, Dublin/Pleasanton/Livermore in NorCal.. the list goes on and on. Without a meaningful federal policy that rewards regional planning and careful land use decisions, transportation money will be spent on poorly planned highway extensions that continue to gobble up vast areas of farmland that are irreplaceable, all the while exacerbating the decay of older suburbs.
Encourage your Senator and Representative to support the current Senate bill, which encourages smart growth policies and transit here.
For those who oppose use of gas tax revenues for public transit and think that the market should decide the best method of transport, here is a book that frames this argument from a free-market perspective.