New Report Finds Drivers Pay Less Than Half the Cost of Roads

Albuquerque Ordinance Re-prioritizes Road Design for All Modes of Transportation

NMPIRG Education Fund & Frontier Group

 New Report Finds Drivers Pay Less Than Half the Cost of Roads;

Albuquerque Ordinance Reprioritizes Road Design for All Modes of Transportation

As Congress struggles to renew the federal transportation law, a new report [] from the New Mexico Public Interest Research Group Education Fund (NMPIRG Education Fund) and Frontier Group finds that drivers currently pay less than half the total cost of roads, and argues that while increasing gas taxes could fill the shortfall, it would leave other problems unaddressed.

The new report, “Who Pays for Roads? How the ‘Users Pays’ Myth Gets in the Way of Solutions to America’s Transportation Problems” exposes the widening gap between how New Mexicans think we pay for transportation – through gas taxes and other fees – and how we actually do.

The new report comes with just a month left before expiration of the Federal Transportation Act, and with the Federal Highway Trust Fund on the brink of insolvency. Revenues from gas taxes and other user fees this year are expected to come up $16 billion short of the level needed to maintain current federal transportation spending. This will lead to the need for urgent congressional action.

“Congress is stuck in an endless loop,” said Sean Foran, NMPIRG Education Fund Director. “Either Congress will have to raise gas taxes to fully pay for the costs of highways or it will have to admit that the ‘users pay’ system no longer works and needs reform.”

“Congress faces important choices about transportation,” Foran continued. “Playing make believe about where our transportation dollars come from shouldn’t be an option.”

State and federal policies often give priority to spending on highways based on the assumption that drivers pay the cost of roads through gas taxes and user fees. The report argues that, with the nation’s transportation needs changing and general taxpayers bearing an ever-greater share of the cost of transportation, America should instead invest transportation dollars in projects that are likely to deliver the greatest benefits.

Recent opinion polls suggest that Americans believe that the nation should give greater priority to transit, bicycling and walking in transportation spending. Albuquerque recently adopted a Complete Streets ordinance introduced by Councilor Isaac Benton that will make Albuquerque streets more accommodating for all modes of transportation.

“The Complete Streets ordinance established a new citywide goal to expand safe use of our streets by requiring equal consideration of the efficiency and safety of all types of travel when considering any roadway project,” Benton said. “The ordinance also adopted nationally-recognized standards for streets to serve existing and future development with appropriate infrastructure that encourages walkability and inviting public spaces.”

The new report pulls back the veil on the “users pay” myth, finding that:

  • Gas taxes and other fees paid by drivers now cover less than half of road construction and maintenance costs nationally – down from more than 70 percent in the 1960s – with the balance coming chiefly from income, sales and property taxes and other levies on general taxpayers.
  • Taxpayers now subsidize highway construction and maintenance to the tune of $69 billion per year – more than the general tax funds used to support transit, bicycling, walking and passenger rail combined.
  • Regardless of how much they drive, the average American household bears an annual financial burden of more than $1,100 in taxes and indirect costs from driving – over and above any gas taxes or other fees they pay that are connected with driving.

“The ‘users pay’ myth is deeply ingrained in U.S. transportation policy, shaping how billions of dollars in transportation funds are raised and spent each year,” said Tony Dutzik, co-author of the report and Senior Analyst at Frontier Group, a non-profit think tank. “More and more, though, all of us are bearing the cost of transportation in our tax bills, regardless of how much we drive.”
The report can be read at .

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NMPIRG Education Fund conducts research and public education on behalf of consumers and the public interest. Our research, analysis, reports and outreach serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety, or well-being.