Study: Highways Don’t Pay for Themselves

As debate over the merit of congestion pricing rages on throughout LA County, a new report by the Texas Department of Transportation, hardly a hotbed of anti-car radicalism, throws cold water on one of the leading arguments against road pricing: that the roads where Metro wishes to place variable tolls are already paid for by gas taxes.

While the specific numbers would doubtless be different because Texas has a different gas tax than California and a different amount of traffic density; the study shows such a wide disparity in the funds generated by a road project increased fees and the cost of a project that it's hard to imagine any road project producing the funds to justify the cost of building it.

For example:

Applying this methodology, revealed that no road pays for itself in gas taxes and fees. For example, in Houston, the 15 miles of SH 99 from I-10 to US 290 will cost $1 billion to build and maintain over its lifetime, while only generating $162 million in gas taxes. That gives a tax gap ratio of .16, \ which means that the real gas tax rate people would need to pay on this segment of road to completely pay for it would be $2.22 per gallon. This is just one example, but there is not one road in Texas that pays for itself based on the tax system of today. Some roads pay for about half their true cost, but most roads we have analyzed pay for considerably less.

Of course, the ramifications of this study go beyond just congestion pricing.  Thanks to the Texas DOT, transit advocates have the perfect counter to any argument that transit is some sort of affront to the free market because of the subsidies it receives.

Photo: Third Ape 23/Flickr