Skip to Content
Streetsblog Los Angeles home
Streetsblog Los Angeles home
Log In
Car Culture

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

highway_funds_chart.png(Image: Subsidyscope)

The myth
that U.S. roads "pay for themselves" thanks to user fees is a subject
that's likely familiar to many Streetsblog Capitol Hill 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 released today 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).

Today's
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 many governments to limit their bonding plans.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog Los Angeles

Metro and Caltrans Expect to Complete Torrance 405 Freeway Widening Project Next Month

Metro and Caltrans are adding nearly two miles of new auxiliary freeway lanes, a new on-ramp, and widening adjacent streets including Crenshaw Boulevard and 182nd Street

July 19, 2024

Strategizing About Reduced Funding in the Active Transportation Program

Funding for Cycle 7 of the Active Transportation Program is less than $200 million, and already there have been requests for fifteen times the amount of available funding

July 18, 2024

Eyes on the Street: Hollywood Boulevard Bike Lanes are Open

The Hollywood bike lanes project, already very much in use, is also already being criticized by commenters at Nextdoor and other social media

July 17, 2024
See all posts