Myth Busted: Road Costs Not Covered by Gas Taxes

Media Contacts

WISPIRG Foundation

Madison, Wisconsin – A new report released today by the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group titled “Do Roads Pay for Themselves?” disproves the common misconception 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.

•    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.

“Wisconsin needs to make difficult choices about how to fund our state’s troubled transportation system. The first task is to discard common myths about how roads are paid for,” said Kyle Bailey at WISPIRG.

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 portraying gas taxes as “user fees” that pay for roads,” said Bailey. “Funding programs based on myths perpetuates waste isn’t based on what is most needed.”