Higher Taxes Aren't the Only Way to Pay for Transportation System
Byline: Mary E. Peters For The Register-Guard
Fred Hiatt's column on transportation, published Jan. 22 in The Register-Guard, reveals some basic and prevalent misunderstandings about how surface transportation systems work, how they are currently performing, how they are funded, and how past policies have contributed to the failures we are all experiencing today.
There is no disputing that the country will need more surface transportation infrastructure investment to sustain our economic pre-eminence. The critical question is: What is the best way to ask Americans to pay for the costs associated with the improvement, maintenance and use of our highways and transit systems?
We can choose a policy path of substantially higher taxes, more lost time, greater unreliability, more pollution and more wasteful spending. Or we can choose to establish payment policies that reduce congestion, cut pollution, improve reliability and constrain the opportunity for political leaders to waste money. Some erroneously believe that we can pursue both policies simultaneously.
Experts that have looked hard at this issue from both sides of the political aisle believe that increasing our reliance on fossil-based fuel taxes for transportation infrastructure will only cause more financial insecurity. Even worse, because the gas tax is not a direct user fee, it has proven to be ineffective at reducing traffic congestion. Drivers pay the same tax regardless of when, where, or how they use the infrastructure.
I believe - as do many economists that have studied the issue - that fostering more use of direct pricing is the best way to meet the demands placed on our transportation infrastructure. Under this method, drivers would be charged based on their use of a road - similar to the way other utilities such as phone and electric service are now charged. Perhaps most importantly, this method allows cities and states to leverage their transportation assets and reinvest in transportation - something the gas-tax system has little potential to do. …