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Thursday, September 15, 2011

How Do We Pay For Better Roads & Bridges?

In this aerial photo taken Aug. 30, 2011, the damage to Vermont Route 4 in Killington, Vt. is seen. (AP)

In this aerial photo taken Aug. 30, 2011, the damage to Vermont Route 4 in Killington, Vt. is seen. (AP)

The American Society of Civil Engineers recommends that the United States spend $17 billion a year on bridge maintenance, much more than the $10.5 billion actually spent.

Increasing the federal gas tax, privatizing roads and boosting fees for driving during peak traffic hours are some of the ideas proposed for raising money to improve infrastructure.


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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Monk/1181596135 Robert Monk

    I’m an electrician who regularly travels throughout Philadelphia’s poorly-maintained roads and via highways to suburbs. I’ve replaced two steering tie-rods in 4 years and the $1500/year figure for costs of bad roads sounds about right. I’m ready to pay a LOT more in taxes to rebuild bridges and maintain/improve our existing roads. Like any public work, I just need to know that others pay their share, too. I’m particularly concerned to NOT privatize roads, or tole collection, or anything about public works. I favor gas taxes (or, maybe, vehicle-miles-traveled taxes and time-of-use premiums, if privacy can be guaranteed), especially where a gas tax can eliminate the need for inefficient payment systems like toles (and tole-collectors).

  • Matt Ridge

    The govt. does not need more money for taxes, they need to smartly spend the money they already have.

    The people in the US already have to do so, it is time for the government to do so. Only a fool would tax more when a Double-dip recession threat is looming.

  • T. S. King

    A fuel tax is the most fair and effective means to reducing fossil fuel usage while helping to fund infrastructure maintenance.  A pay per mile system requires additional resources and does not compensate for vehicles that are more environmentally and/or infrastructure friendly.  Unfortunately, a gas tax is politically akin to asking parents to be responsible for raising their children…

  • Leroy

    How about this novel idea;
    Astronomical excise and auto sales taxes are SUPPOSED to pay for infrastructure!
    Id like to know where said taxes go instead!?!

  • Ddomogala

    I live in NOrthwest Indiana (80-94) & the price of a toll has doubled since being leased (75 yrs)to a foriegn corporation. Also, the money is mostly spent in the Capitol (indianapolis) area, and not here. Plus the lease makes improvements to alternate routes against the law. Furthermore, the selling and tolling of roads has repeatedly been nixted anywhere near Indianapolis.The most recent being the mexico to canada superhighway thru Indiana. The road will be toll, but will be free within I believe 50 miles of Indianapolis…. And to top everything off, the company ,Australian and Sanish I believe has gone into bankruptcy….  The tollriad origanlay was supposed to be a TOll just until
    the construction of the road paid for itself.  It never was suposed to be a money maker!

  • bernieS

    Wow, Robyn did an incredibly bad job simply accepting your guest’s false assertions that government doesn’t track EZ-PASS users’ movements.   In fact, they log and store that data, and the databases are readily accessible online to law-enforcement agencies without a warrant. 

    There’s numerous cases where EZ-PASS historical data was used in criminal investigations to place people at a certain time & place–and cases where cops improperly have used that data to see where their wives, girlfriends, enemies, etc have traveled.

    That your guest represents government financial interests makes his false assertions no surprise.   States are incredibly cash-strapped and are preparing to start issuing speeding fines to EZ-PASS users based on logged data, once EZ-PASS is made mandatory on toll roads and bridges and cash is no longer an option (as is already happening in some states.)

    Your guest’s further assertion that it’s a myth that government-mandated GPS tracking devices in people’s cars presents no valid privacy concerns is simply false.  But again, he represents government interests.  Here & Now failed to research opposing viewpoints or bring on a guest who didn’t represent government interests.  Now every interview I hear on your show will be met with suspicion of being more bad journalism.

  • J Frog

    I think consumption taxes are the best way to fund the government you want.  Those who use it most, should pay the most.

  • Anonymous

    This transportation problem is the same problem as all the rest of the economy.   Just who should benefit from the workers work.  So far the owners of capital have  benefited.    Historically the owners  of capital are the progeny of  the royalty that preceded  the advent of capitalism.   The owned the money.    Now the owners of capital have overpowered government (the working class) and they have decided that they can decide what is the best use of capital.    However world capital (savings) is $7 trillion an other source says that %40 of world capital is not collecting interest.   So those deciders of what to do with capital is not making good decisions as to what to invest in.   Infrastructure should be at the head  of the line for investment but because we have a short sited class in charge of investment because they want immediate return for there investment the U.S.A. will be left to degenerate into a 3rd. world country.   Because immediate returns are had by investing in other parts of the world.

  • Anonymous

    When a 1-ton Geo Metro causes only 1/16 as much road wear as a 2-ton SUV (this is the “Generalized Fourth Power Law”), shouldn’t the Geo owner pay 1/16 as much in taxes? The fact that the Geo doesn’t use 1/16 as much gasoline is why the gas tax is an inequitable, inefficient way to pay for the roads.

  • Anonymous

    I live in Maryland and IM(not so)HO our Toll System makes no sense what so ever.

    People who rely on the 95 and 895 tunnels the most pay the least and tourists get penalized because they only use the tunnels twice a year.  The difference is $3.20 per round trip.

    That makes NO SENSE economically.  If you need something more then you should pay more for it not the other way around.

    So I am all for charging people for mileage.  I am even more for charging people different rates for On and Off peak usage of major arteries.  I would even go so far as to charge more to people who use the arteries more often, so if you use it 5 days a week, you’ll pay 25% more. 

    The point is to get people OFF the roads, not to subsidize frequent driving with volume discounts.

    I know there will be times when I am charged more, but if I was getting charged for every mile I drove, I’d take the train more often.  ;)  I do believe that even people who think they can’t take public transportation now, will find a way to share rides or use some amount of public transportation to save money.  Money Talks!

  • John Hoffpauer

    Pay-as-you-drive insurance will pave the way for governmental congestion pricing and VMT-based fees.

  • patrick

    I love the concept of taxing per mile. It encourages less urban sprawl, more alternative means of transportation, more economical and conservative means of transportation, less ozone in the atmosphere. 

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      And less freedom of movement, more control of the masses…

      • Anonymous

         If the per-mile tax were proportional to the amount of road wear caused by the vehicle (a 1-ton vehicle causes 1/16 as much road wear as a 2-ton vehicle according to the “Generalized Fourth Power Law”), then the per-mile tax would be much cheaper for some people than the current gas tax.

        The gas tax forces poor Geo Metro owners to subsidize the roads for wealthy Hummer owners. So if you want to control the masses, then keep the gas tax!

      • patrick

        I don’t understand how the GOVT would “control the masses” if it’s your own personal choice to drive a vehicle on a road paid for by taxes anyway. 

        Our taxes built that road, this is a different way to tax…..per use, per mile.

  • Anon

    As most know, you don’t introduce new taxes in a down economy. Jack Basso should be forced to retire for that fact alone. With that, even using a GPS system, people will not tolerate being tracked. There are many ways to prevent a GPS from working without tampering with them and they will become widely available. People will cheat the system. Besides that, the cost to roll out such a system would also be astronomical. Assuming existing taxes have been used 100% on the roads and we know that is not the case, the only other way would be to increase taxes on people with higher incomes. Alternatively, place electronic tolls on newly built toll roads at all the major cities much like in Britain, Sydney etc. They allow for faster commutes however cost to use. Those extra funds fund the construction of the toll roads along with funding existing roads.

  • Flin

    Your guest wasn’t very informed about the Indiana toll road.  Speak to Indiana residents, not someone in D.C.  I am in agreement with the comments of “Ddomogala” below.  Leasing U.S. roads to foreign investors is a mistake.  (If they can make money from our toll roads, why can’t we?!)  In the case of Indiana, the leased toll road has not been managed well and has been detrimental to the residents in the northern part of the state.  Everything in Indiana is centered around what is best for Indianapolis and the rest of us pay for it.  

  • Jess NH

    I would much rather a higher gas tax than a bill for how many miles I drive. Raising the gas tax would push for more environmentally responsible driving. Also, why isn’t there a bigger push for more public transportation? I live in NH and there are very little options outside of the few cities we have. More public transportation would reduce carbon emissions, alleviate road congestion, and create some much needed working class jobs.

  • no name

    Your whole story seemed very narrow in focus and breadth. It failed to raise any questions about the whole philosophy of “privitazing” public services, in particular, roads & bridges.  For example, the issue of charging people per mile driven.  Why no discussion of what a regrssive tax that is.  As we all know, poor and working people are being forced to live further and further from the central city, from their jobs from shopping.  And more and more poor and wworking people are working multiple jobs,  commuting back and forth between those jobs.  So the dude from the roads association now wantsto charge them an extra tax on top of their already outrageous communting expenses?    But more importantly tthan the spin of the professiaonal spin dude, why didn’t your show at least raise those issues?

  • Jmgd3

    Why doesn’t Oregon just have a simple gasoline tax-users pay without all the other technology hoopla.  Gas tax is too low anyway and the feds ought to be raising it as well.  Then, maybe we would finally wean ourselves off of Middle East oil and learn to conserve.
    Jodie mgd.
    Akron, OH

  • Aaron Allen

    The Oregon ‘Road Use Fee’ trial used GPS data to record where/when motorists purchased fuel and charged only for in-state travel [per mile]. That was great but complex and expensive. Here’s how I wud price fuels
    and ‘tax’ it: First, I wud eliminate as many middlemen, ‘spot markets’, classic jobbers/distributors/specula-
    tors/flash traders…Highway Hay [the grasses and plants in public rights-of-way] and the green algae that
    thrives on ponds, swamps, lakes, etc. are FREE!..Independent ‘harvesters cut and bale the HwyHay and suck up the GrnAlgae and take them to nearby [local/regional] processor/refiner/distributors. The ‘grassoline’ and ‘GreenAlgae Biodiesel/Heat’ is delivered, just-in-time, by independent truckers who pull the
    refiner/distributors’ tank-trailers. to the ‘Dealers’ [stations]…The fuels are NOT sold to the dealers but, rather, to the motoring customers for $2.00 per USGallon [or less!] The US Federal Excise Tax is 25 cents
    and is for infrastructure construction/maint/repair ONLY! The Dealer gets a dime! State Sales Tax is upon
    the fuel ONLY! There is NO state excise tax charged…Quarterly, like estimated income taxes, each motor
    vehicle registered files [by mail or online] a Statement of Road Use Fee: This will be the same amount in
    each state or territory–X cents-per-mile; .62X cents-per-kilometer. The forms allow reporting up to 6
    motor vehicles–no trailers as they are not self-powered. Reasonable rates per thousand pounds wud be
    due. Seasonal [farm/winter/etc.] and mostly off-road vehicles wud not pay ‘fee’…Owners who have installed
    HHO-gas generators will save on the fuels costs. Those who drive little or a low distance will save on the fee
    costs. The fees will ‘capture’ electric, hybrid, steam, and compressed-air vehicles. This revised revenue plan
    will fairly, yet economically, charge motorists. No more big bucks at the pumps…No more ‘.9′ or ’9/10′ cents,
    large overhead signs, price signs, wasteful station lighting, ‘gas wars’. The advertizing of fuels and theuir
    brands will end [like tobacco]. No more excess stations in any community [like the licensing of bars and liquor stores...Radio/TV/print ads wud end also to save cusumer costs. The fuel one pumps at a 'Brand X'
    station may  actually be 'Brand Y'!  The pump islands at a station wud VEND Grassoline, Algae-diesel,
    Compressed Natural Gas [CNG]..A pump on its own island wud VEND LPG [propane] for vehicles, bargeques, motor homes, etc…The station’s overhead canopy wud be a’ checkerboard’ of low-wattage
    lamps and daytime solar lenses…During the day, ALL lights are extinguished. At night, all of the overhead
    canopy wud be half to 70% lighted. Presence of a vehicle or pump operation wud cause the lighting to
    be ‘bright’–when fueling is completed, the affected lamps return to a more subdued level…Happy motoring!
    …Aaron Allen… 

  • Wr

    Federal Gas Tax makes the most sense. While not a perfect solution, larger vehicles pay more than small ones per mile, heavy ones pay more than light ones. Perhaps some provision could be made for electric vehicles. While it may not be the fairest way to finance the roads, it is the easiest and it is not intrusive. Keep in mind that the tax is a small part of the total transportation expense.

    • Anonymous

       When you add in your electric vehicle provision, suddenly the gas tax is not so simple!

      When a smaller vehicle causes 1/16 as much road wear as a larger vehicle, shouldn’t the smaller vehicle pay 1/16 as much in taxes? Why should the Geo Metro owner subsidize the roads for the Hummers?

  • PKL

    The long perspective may be constructive in this respect.   At some point the allocation of fuel resources is going to become a major issue in this country, and the biggest hogs per passenger mile are the airlines, followed by road vehicles, and finally trailed by the most efficient user of fuel, trains.  Government heavily subsidizes the road and air infrastructure at costs that exceed the revenue from fuel taxes, user charges, etc. (and consider that the Federal and state highways are payed by fuel taxes from people who drive most of their miles on city streets, meaning that the users of the highways don’t actually pay for the true costs).  But government meagerly supports rail passenger transportation….which was profitable as an entirely private tax-paying enterprise until the government started building non-taxed highways in the 1930′s.  In the long term, we might find that if we fully privatized the Federal highway system of Interstate and US highways, AND privatized the airports and the airspace (i.e. the traffic control system), the ultimate allocation of fuel resources might actually begin to occur in a fairly rational manner – favoring the most efficient users between destinations of certain distances apart, i.e. private road vehicles under about 100 miles, fast trains for destinations up to 500 miles apart, and air for long distances where time costs continue to outweigh fuel costs.  AND it would eliminate massive bureaucracies and tax burdens, and the associated politicking that goes with it, and would allow for local property and sales taxation of massive tracts of real estate that are currently off the rolls, which would help pay for better local streets and other infrastructure.   The ability to terminate rail services in urban districts instead of massive outlying areas occupied by airports would have a tendency to focus development and thus the allocation of tax-based urban resources on things like water, sewer, city streets, increasing resource allocation efficiency over the long run.  The greater space, comfort and amenities of rail travel (which now include on-board WIFI in some instances) could restore massive productivity losses incurred in air and car travel….not to mention reducing our collective susceptibility to the intrusive body search.  And all of those are simply by-products of the simple issue of fairness in ensuring that each mode of transportation collects enough revenue to fully pay for its costs without the distorting effects of political government subsidization.  Transportation infrastructure, particularly of the intercity variety, is a clearly-definable and operable asset that, the more I study it, seems to be cleanly and easily capable of being privatized with beneficial results.

  • Ljr4428

    Money per mile of driving is ridiculous.  We live 30 miles from the nearest bank, school, post office and hardware store, and 40 minutes from the nearest grocery. Our primary vehicles get 37mpg and 55 mpg (diesel  VW).  We are doing our part to use less fuel. Increase the federal gas tax and make sure it isn’t being diverted to purposes other than roads and bridges.
    l. ross Utopia,tx

  • Cynthia Weatherwax

      I realize that people who drive motor vehicles need to help pay for road repairs and this is done through taxation on gas per gallon (18.4 cents). We already pay enough in taxes as it is. Why burden us with more taxes? If people get taxed for how many miles they drive on their odometer plus get taxed on gasoline, how can we afford to go any where?
       How about going back to horse and buggy? There is not an odometer on thoses!
    I am sure that one day, people will not be able to even afford to back their cars out of their own driveways. My dad predicted that one day, only the rich will be able to afford cars, and by the looks of things he is right. The horse and buggy is looking better and better.

                         Cynthia W.

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