Myth Busted: Road Costs Not Covered by Gas Taxes

Media Contacts
Emily Rusch

Vice President and Senior Director of State Offices, The Public Interest Network


Los Angeles, CA – A new report released today by the California Public Interest Research Group, Do Roads Pay for Themselves?, disproves the common misperception that road-building is paid for by user fees, showing that gas taxes cover barely half the costs of building and maintaining roads, a fraction which is likely to fall steadily.  

Among the findings of the report: 

• Federal gasoline taxes were originally intended for debt relief, not roads, as highway advocates often claim. 

• Nationally, highways, roads and streets have received more than $600 billion in subsidies over the last 63 years in excess of the amount raised through gasoline taxes.

• The amount of money a particular driver pays in gasoline taxes bears little relationship to his or her use of roads funded by gas taxes. Drivers pay gasoline taxes for the miles they drive on local streets and roads, even though those proceeds are typically used to pay for state and federal highways.

• Gas taxes are covering less and less of the cost of highways as time passes and the trend is expected to continue.  

“California needs to make difficult choices about how to fund our states’ troubled transportation system. The first task is to discard common myths about how roads are paid for,” said Jaafar Rizvi at CALPIRG. “Instead, transportation policy decisions should be made by deciding first what the state needs to do in order to serve the greatest number of people, and second, how to pay for it.”   

As we enter a new year, California and the nation face tough choices about how to invest in better transportation. 

• The California High-Speed Rail Authority needs to complete final engineering and environmental studies and the legislature needs to allocate bond funds in the upcoming budget so that construction on California’s high-speed rail line can begin in the Central Valley in 2012. 

• Some metropolitan regions, like San Diego, are currently reviewing their Regional Transportation Plans for the next 40 years.

• Other regions are moving forward with large-scale investments in public transit, like Los Angeles’ 30 in 10 campaign to build 12 transit projects over the next ten years.

This year, Congress will again address funding for the nation’s Highway Trust Fund, which has been bailed out four times with $35 billion from general funds since 2008. Federal gas taxes have not increased since 1993 and revenues are expected to remain flat as Americans continue to drive less and use more fuel-efficient cars. 

“Highway advocates often wrongly portray highway spending as financially conservative by falsely labling gas taxes as “user fees” that pay for roads,” said Rizvi. “Funding programs based on myths instead of on what is needed is nothing less than wasteful and unproductive.”