Thursday, September 09, 2004

Raising Toll to Curb Oil Consumption?

Owen Gutfreund writes in the Times:
The Interstate legislation, as enacted in 1956, put a stop to new toll-road construction, and we instead proceeded with a socialized transportation system, available to the consumer at no charge, mostly paid for from general revenue. Toll-road construction ceased, and with the exception of a handful of projects, all new highways built since have been freeways.

There is a mistaken notion that American drivers pay for their roads through gas taxes. Actually, even though states collect gas taxes and a modest federal levy was imposed to pay part of the Interstate expenses, the total of these charges never amounted to more than one-third of highway costs. Such taxes, adjusted for inflation, have actually decreased, and efforts to increase them are politically risky, even though each 1-cent rise in the gas tax costs the average driver less than $8 a year. In practice, our roads and highways have been underwritten by general taxation. With gas taxes and tolls capped by effective lobbying, this annual subsidy has grown, amounting to billions of dollars annually.

With driving so generously subsidized and the true costs hidden, Americans have driven more and more miles each year.
There was indeed a proposal in the house transportation committee to raise gasoline tax by about 4 to 9 cents over the next five or seven years to pay for highway construction related activities. Some, like Martin Wachs, have argued that fuel taxes are in fact the most readily available, effective, efficient and equitable approach to transportation finance.


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