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Report: Road Funding From Non-Road Users Doubled in 25 Years

Posted By Elana Schor On December 4, 2009 @ 2:08 pm In Gas Tax,Streetsblog USA,Transportation Funding | 7 Comments

highway_funds_chart.png(Image: Subsidyscope [1])

The myth [2] that U.S. roads "pay for themselves" thanks to user fees is a subject that's likely familiar to many Streetsblog readers -- but just how much of the nation's highway funding is provided by charging drivers?

The answer may surprise even active critics of the current asphalt-centric transportation system. Between 1982 and 2007, the amount of federal highway revenue derived from non-users of the highway system has doubled, according to a study [1] released last week by Subsidyscope.

Analyzing Federal Highway Administration data dating back to 1957, the dawn of the Interstate system, Subsidyscope researchers found that non-users of the highway system contributed $70 billion for nationwide road construction and maintenance in 2007. In 1982, by contrast, highway contributions from non-users totaled just $35 billion (in 2007 dollars).

The study also found that the share of road funding generated by user fees fell to 51 percent in 2007, down from 61 percent just a decade earlier. (The accounting used by Subsidyscope, a joint project of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Sunlight Foundation, accounted for the use of about one-sixth of federal gas tax revenue to pay for transit.)

What has caused the government's increasingly rapid dependence on non-road user fees -- which more often than not take the form of direct transfers from the Treasury -- to pay for roads?

Subsidyscope points out that the federal gas tax has stayed stagnant since 1993, rapidly losing value as inflation climbs, but the growing popularity of bond issuances as a way to pay for new roads is also a factor. According to Subsidyscope's research, the value of new bonds issued to pay for highways reached $24.7 billion in 2007, up from just $6 billion in new bonds issued in 1982 (converted to 2007 dollars).

Bond offerings, which often represent states and localities playing a greater role in transportation planning, do not guarantee that users will be paying for new highway construction -- rather, bonds depend on market conditions to allow a successful leveraging of debt, and the recent economic downturn has forced [3] many governments to limit their bonding plans.

Article printed from Streetsblog San Francisco: http://sf.streetsblog.org

URL to article: http://sf.streetsblog.org/2009/12/04/report-road-funding-from-non-road-users-doubled-in-25-years/

URLs in this post:

[1] Subsidyscope: http://www.subsidyscope.com/transportation/highways/funding/

[2] The myth: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2009/09/17/a-few-words-on-user-fees/

[3] has forced: http://govpro.com/public_works/highways/bond_turmoil_lead/

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