Sunday, January 30, 2011

Statesman Op-Ed Asks for "New Look" at Road Funding

Road use is priced all wrong. Maybe this year the legislature can start to do something about it.

Retired ODOT administrator Claudia Howells writes in today's Statesman about the genesis of the dedicated gax tax:
Thirty years later it is time to take a new look at how we fund transportation. What seemed like a good idea in 1979 has locked Oregon into a 1950s transportation system. Though many states dedicate gas taxes to roads, Oregon has the strictest limitation in the nation, restricting all fees associated with motor vehicles.

Most Oregonians support fuel-efficient vehicles and many support improving all forms of transportation, but the law offers no flexibility. Bikeways funded from "transportation funds" must be contiguous with roadway pavement, which really means that bike lanes are nothing more than shoulders on highways rather than safer, separated pathways. Does this make sense?

Can we continue supporting an expensive way of moving people and goods while we neglect more efficient and safer systems? Or perhaps road users should pay the full cost of the road system. Most drivers pay slightly over a dollar a day for the privilege of using public roads, far less than the cost to the public.
For a longer analysis of road funding, see Doug's detailed note, in which he estimated the gas tax should be at least $3.50 (not just 30 cents!) for car users and the public to break even on road use, and a separate OSPIRG analysis.

This is a debate too often carried out in a factual vacuum, with proponents of the status quo arguing that car users pay fully for the roads and that non-car users are enjoying a free ride; but something like the opposite is true, instead. Car users are enormously subsidized on the roadways.

What looks like a free market in action is in fact far from a free market. Drive-alone car preference is not the impartial result of the market's invisible hand, a decision for the best and most efficient tool for a set of transportation jobs, but is the guided result of a huge set of subsidies.

Conservatives, libertarians, and liberals all ought to see this as a terribly inefficient market! Road use is priced all wrong.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An Oregonian story links to this Pew Charitable Trusts Report -

"Highways, which span over four million miles in the United States, are increasingly paid for by ”non-user” fees—including sales, income and property taxes—an analysis released today by Pew’s Subsidyscope project finds. The report shows that in recent years, these revenues are funding a greater share of highway construction and maintenance projects, with a corresponding decrease in the percentage of user contributions—including gas taxes, vehicle registrations and tolls."