How People Think We Should Pay for Roads, Transit, High-Speed Rail and Other Infrastructure

More than half of Americans think their area’s transportation system is only fair or poor. Nearly half think congestion has gotten worse over the past five years, and 54% think it will get worse in the coming five years. But 77% oppose increasing the federal gas tax, apparently not trusting Congress to spend the proceeds on improving their travels - 65% say federal transportation money is spent ineffectively. Instead, Americans favor using tolls for new capacity, and 59% say they would use new toll roads or toll lanes if it meant significant time savings.

These are some of the highlights of the latest Reason-Rupe public opinion survey (.pdf) of 1,200 adults via landlines and cell phones. 

Public disaffection with federal transportation efforts goes beyond opposition to gas tax increases. Although the federal government has thus far spent $8 billion to fund high-speed rail, only 34% think government should do this, while 55% think high-speed rail should be limited to routes where passengers would pay fares large enough to pay for the service. In addition, while Congress devotes 20% of Highway Trust Fund spending to mass transit, 48% of Americans think that transit should receive no more of transportation funding than its share in travel (which in most places would be less than 5%). And by a margin of 62% to 30% Americans favor robust highway funding, given that most people travel mostly by car, as opposed to the idea that transportation funding should focus on getting people out of their cars by disproportionately funding transit and other non-driving alternatives.

As for alternatives to an expanded federal role, there is considerable support for tolling and public-private partnerships. Some 58% would rather see new highway capacity paid for by tolls than by increased gas taxes (28%). And 57% support converting existing HOV lanes into HOT lanes. A comparable 55% support using public-private partnerships to build critical infrastructure.

These views are considerably at odds with what many transportation planners and media pundits think about transportation policy and hopefully will prompt some serious debate about how to improve the nation's infrastructure by embracing and restoring the users-pay principle to highways and infrastructure.

For more, go to Reason's transportation research and commentary.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • There is no "we"||

    Oh, absolutely!

    What could be more "Libertarian" than a transponder on every vehicle tracking your every move on every road, bridge and tunnel nationwide?

  • Sevo||

    "a transponder on every vehicle"

    Hmm. Didn't see that in the article.
    Might it be some stupid bullshit from There is no "we"?
    Yep, sure is.

  • SIV||

    You can't drive in a HOT lane most places w/o a transponder in your car.

    Who's stupid now Sevo?

  • Mr. FIFY||

    I'd send my car to the crusher before I'd consent to having a tracking device in it.

  • SIV||

    No HOT lanes for you.Slower traffic keep right.

  • Gerholdt||

    Fact.
    They just opened just such a road in Marylandistan. http://www.iccproject.com/tolling-mdta.php

  • Juice||

    I dunno about user pays. How about advertiser pays some, donor pays some, and user pays some? I don't want to pay a $10 toll every day on the way to work.

    And I'm not that opposed to gas taxes paying for roads.

  • SIV||

    Fuel taxes are the perfect way to pay for public roads. If they are really worried about the "unfairness" of vehicles running on electricity or unicorn farts just tack a charge on the tag fee.

  • LarryA||

    Fuel taxes are the best way to fund public roads provided you can hold government's feet to the fire and keep the funds from being diverted.

    Unfortunately...

  • ||

    Hear, hear!

  • wareagle||

    And I'm not that opposed to gas taxes paying for roads.
    -----------------------------
    isn't that supposed to be the case already? I keep hearing about "infrastructure" from the left, yet every state and the feds get a cut from gasoline sales, plus a lot other fees related to our being on the road. What are they doing with the money that is paid in?

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Not all fuel is burned in road vehicles. Gasoline gets used in lawnmowers, weedwhackers, generators, snowblowers, bonfires, boats, ATVs, light sport aircraft, and dirt track races.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    If ten dollars is what it costs for you to maintain the amount of road capacity that you desire, why should others be forced to pay for it? If the road was not there at all, your life would have just developed differently to utilize the the resources that you did have available. So what.

  • ||

    and hopefully will prompt some serious debate

    that's a good one. unless we're talking about a debate of how racist the planner's/pundit's opponents are.

  • SIV||

    Bob:

    Fuck Off central planner.The HOT lane they stole from us in my hometown has INCREASED congestion.

  • ||

    HOT lanes suffer from the same disadvantage of HOV lanes: they can fill up.

    Express toll lanes don't get congested. This is why all freeway lanes ought to be express lanes!

  • ||

    In so.Cal's 91, not enough people use it cuz there aren't enough lanes in it. Why use it when it will be just as congested as the freeway next to it? Converting HOV lanes to HOT lanes failed.

  • SIV||

    So Reason is push-polling now?

  • ||

    Class A totem-poll style.

  • Max||

    Taxes work pretty well around the world, you lunatic right-wing fucks.Stick your user fees up your fat asses. Merry Christmas.

  • Sevo||

    Max|12.20.11 @ 7:52PM|#
    "Taxes work pretty well around the world,.."

    Except for, oh, the US and Europe. And Japan. And........

  • tomwright||

    Having recently returned from Japan I can say the roads there, at least the ones I was on, were in better condition than the one around NYC and NNJ.

    Of course, how much they are taxed for them, and how much of that tax actually goes to the roads is an entirely different question.

  • wareagle||

    tom,
    since neither NY nor NJ is undertaxed, the question becomes what is the existing revenue from gas taxes and other road-related fees being used for?

  • ||

    My mother is Japanese and I lived there for five years. Japan is considered a "Construction State." Think: Defense is to the US as Construction is to Japan. The question to ask yourself is: while you were in Japanese cities, did you see anything NOT concrete? The politicians take kickbacks from construction companies whose bids are all rigged for projects. Most of these construction companies have ties to the yakuza. Everything in Japan, including the beaches, is concrete. That's why the roads are in good shape.
    Also, try driving one way from Tokyo to Osaka on the freeways (free--what irony) 250 miles and tolls are about $125, one way. It also takes about 6 hours. The shinkansen (bullet train) is maybe 40 or 50 dollars more and takes less than half the time. Guess which option people choose?

  • ||

    Do they really work well in all situations? Why should I pay taxes when I was an adult who didn't benefit from them?

  • Apatheist||

    You seem pretty supportive of forcing me to pay taxes for your retirement.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Nice Christmas sentiment there, Max.

    Still peeping at Ron Paul's house?

  • RoboCain||

    "Welcome to the Supervillain or Newt Game, where you have to decide whether an idea comes from an indestructible megalomaniac hell-bent on ruling the world, or from a fictional supervillain.

    Play the game!"

    http://supervillainornewt.com/

  • SIV||

    And 57% support converting existing HOV lanes into HOT lanes. Yeah everybody wants to give up lanes they already paid for with gas taxes so the government and their "private sector" cronies can charge tolls on portions of existing non-toll roads. Frees up all those gas taxes for more important things...like bike lanes and light rail!

  • SIV||

    Do you know who else was a transportation planner?

  • SIV||

    Robert Poole is the one and only "reason" you get not one thin dime from me during pledge week.

  • ||

    Actually, the gasoline tax about the fairest tax in existence. Fairer than tolls, in my opinion. Someone's 1900 lb. Geo Metro doesn't cause near the wear and tear that a 5000 lb sedan (or minivan) does, but usually under a toll system, the toll would cost the same for those two vehicles because they're in the same class. The gas tax allows the Geo owner to pay a lot less by requiring a lot less gas (50+ mpg will do that).

  • DEM||

    Oh yeah it's super fair. The fucking $40k a year I pay in income taxes goes to buying food and health care for jobless single mothers and wealthy retirees, so there's none left for crucial government functions like building and maintaining roads. Hence I must render to Ceasar again and again every time I fill my tank. Fair is exactly the word that springs to mind.

  • ||

    This

  • Juice||

    If you're paying $40k a year in income tax, why are you complaining about gas taxes?

  • tomwright||

    Hey those Ferrari's and Maybach's don't run on air you know...

  • ||

    His money. Good for him.

  • wareagle||

    he's not complaining about gas taxes, he's complaining about how govt spends the money it takes from him. Do you believe your "contribution" to the public kitty is being used wisely?

  • Apatheist||

    If we got rid of welfare would you rather income taxes be cut or gas taxes? In a situation where only roads and not welfare for single mothers are providers the gas tax that only taxes those using the roads is fairer than an income tax makes everyone pay regardless of their use of the roads.

  • ||

    I think his point is that while a gas tax is a perfectly rational way to pay for roads, it isn't so rational when they are taking that in addition to loads of taxes funding stupid shit that the government shouldn't be doing.

  • Apatheist||

    We're already spending far more than we take in under all taxes. The road taxes themselves aren't the problem. If we are going to have public roads I don't see how else they should be paid for.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    I hate that "render unto Caesar" concept, as it cherry-picks combining of church and state... which is always a bad idea.

  • ||

    Your comment seems to infer from my comment that I think the entire tax structure in the US is fair. Nothing could be further from the truth. My comment was that the gasoline tax is a fairer way to tax compared to all other taxes, not that it's fair on top of all the other taxes.

  • traal||

    According to the generalized fourth power law, a 5000 lbs sedan causes 48 times as much road wear as a 1900 lbs Geo Metro. But does the sedan pays 48 times as much in gas taxes?

  • ||

    No, but it does end up paying at least double the tax. Note that not all the damage to roads is due to weight of the vehicles (a big portion is due entirely to weather...i.e. they would eventually crumble even if no one ever drove on them). It seems fairer to me than a toll in which they both pay the same.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Compared to weather, the amount of damage caused by both vehicles is negligible. But both vehicles use nearly equal amounts of capacity. The overall costs for the construction and maintenance of the required capacity is the cost that matters.

  • ||

    http://pjmedia.com/tatler/2011.....g-up-iran/

    Two more huge explosions in Iran. Everyone thinks this is the US or Israel. But i am starting to think not. No one is that good. I think this is internal forces in Iran. And is a civil war.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    A steel smelter and an oil refinery. Either a very adept guerilla operation to weaken Iran or gross incompetence on the part of the staff.

    I favor the latter.

  • ||

    In two places on the same day? Doubtful.

  • ||

    Because shit like this never happens any where by accident.

  • wareagle||

    but twice on the same day?

  • ||

    Sure it does. But on the same day as another explosion when shit has been blowing up all over the country?

  • ||

    This is what I was talking about in the newsletter comments. Anybody that doesn't think we're behind this is a fool.

    And While I dislike Obama, I have to give him kudos for taking it to the Iranians on the downlow.

  • *ahem*||

  • ||

    Does that mean Michelle is a beard?

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Maybe the Mahdi is returning.

  • Juice||

    Well there are the MEK and Jundallah and other terrorist groups that have financial and tactical support from the US and other powers like Turkey and Israel.

  • ||

    And the Green movement was not all babes making internet videos.

  • Earth Liberation Front||

    Oh, sure. Blow up a few Hummer dealerships, and people call you terrorists.

  • Mr. Mark||

    Just to get a little crazy here, but why not have the states pay for road construction and get the feds out of it completely, utterly, and absolutely?

  • ||

    Local governance. What a shocking concept.

  • Chupacabra||

    Because that's racist.

    Duh.

  • ||

    There's too much interstate traffic for that to be viable.

  • ||

    Then the feds should exclusively pay for and maintain the interstate highway system. And since it's vital for national security, the military could pay for it. As far as the rest of the roads go, the states should pay for it exclusively.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    The interstate highways were never vital for national security. The U.S. highway route system was already well developed and could handle massive military movements before the interstates were built. Neither has ever actually been necessary for wartime purposes. Domestically, personnel will always move mostly by air, and land equipment will always move mostly by rail. If the interstate highways ever had to be used for these purposes, the military would be fucked, because it would mean fuel distribution networks would already be down.

  • tomwright||

    A user fee is really the only fair way to pay for many things. In the case of roads a gas tax is a pretty good way. The problem is, the money goes into a general fund where it is diverted for other purposes.

    How about a Constitutional Amendment, (state and/or federal), that states all user fees are placed in a separate account, and can not be used for any other purpose. And that user fees should be charged for specific things, like roads. License fees would be included, so if you pay for an annual drivers license, real estate license, liquor license, those fees can only be used for enforcement of those licenses.

  • ||

    You are right. A gas tax isn't a bad way to pay for roads provided the politicians don't steal the money.

  • wareagle||

    isn't a gas tax essentially a user fee? People buy gasoline in order to drive on public roads. The problem, once again, is not the source of revenue, it is the people making spending decisions. Govt is the luxury of spending other poeple's money.

  • ||

    Wareagle and John are right on the money. Once we force the government to spend the gas tax receipts exclusively on road maintenance and construction, we can see how much of our money is wasted on stupid stuff.

  • Gerholdt||

    Like the Social Security "lock-box" trust fund, that now contains nothing but non-negotiable government bonds because every penny has been borrowed and squandered?

  • ||

    I believe the biggest problem with this discussion is the lack of commonality in driving behaviors. I'm located in the Sierras; the 'main highway' here is CA-49... Winding two-lane blacktop. So yeah, I am bugged that much of my gas tax goes to maintaining roads that I never use. If my (three-ton 1993 V8) Yukon saw more than 2000 miles on interstates last year --- including a trip to San Diego --- I'll eat my keyboard.

    But that's my point: how and what I drive is probably unlike what 90% of the rest of you drive. The note was made earlier that "[s]omeone's 1900 lb. Geo Metro doesn't cause near the wear and tear that a 5000 lb sedan (or minivan) does..." Okay, fine, but can a Geo carry all the stuff I use for work? Would the tow rating on a Geo allow me to pull two cords of firewood? The daily (or weekly) needs of a guy driving a Geo in an urban area are vastly different than mine, but we're also on different turf. So... Who should be paying for the interstate system: The Geo Metro driver living in, say, Santa Clara, or the dumb hillbilly with a full-sized truck who sees multi-lane freeway a half-dozen times a year? (Y'know, going in to the big city of Sacramento...)

    This is not a rhetorical question. While I may not agree with people on Reason all the time, I generally respect the intelligence of y'all. So, comments?

  • ||

    The only system that would address your situation would be a toll system based on GPS data on every vehicle (to see which roads a person was traveling on). While that's possible, it's also very big-brother-ish. Imagine what could come next...e.g. police sending you tickets because the GPS data says you were speeding in 17 different places last month...Insurance companies using the data as an excuse to raise premiums (not just auto insurance, but health and life as well)...Places of employment using the data to screen applicants (they already use credit ratings...as do insurance companies).

    No thanks. I'll just pay the gas tax, please.

  • smartass||

    Dear Lenny the Dead One,

    If I may be so kind as to interpret for you what NAL just said:

    You're screwed. No matter what. But your name-sake suggests that maybe you don't much care.

  • Nicholas D. Rosen||

    I propose financing infrastructure by land value taxation. Infrastructure makes land more valuable; for example, a road into a section of countryside makes it practical to commute from homes there to jobs in the city, and thus raises land values in the area it serves. So let's pay for infrastructure projects out of the values they create, instead of out of arbitrary taxes. (There may also be a place for tolls.)

  • Colonel_Angus||

    No. Property taxation is gay. See below.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Screw fuel taxes, user fees, congestion pricing, and public-private enterprises. All limited access highways should be sold clear title to private owners. Then they can come up with whatever retarded pricing scheme that they feel like. Or convert the right of way to organic farm strips. My point is that we should stop discussing stupid complicated ways to make government ownership of highways "fair". No one is entitled to them in the first place.

  • Surly Chef||

    ^^This.

  • Surly Chef||

    Also something about Somolia.

  • Chaos Punk||

    This is fuckin' hilarious.

  • smartass||

    So, we've actually solved the problem in the comments above. All we gotta do is go pass a law that decrees "politicians shalt not screw us anymore".

    No elected politician is ever motivated to divert public funds. Like say, on vote buying ventures.

    Why just think, if they screw us, we can vote them out after the fact and it'll change everything. And we won't be screwed anymore. Or something.

    This is why elected politicians always do the right thing. Long live The Elected Politician.

  • ||

    Lets get it totally rocking this time dude, seriously.

    www.Complete-Anon.tk

  • ||

    Toll systems are great and all, but it is total bs for them to be collecting fuel taxes and then entering into a ppp allowing some dillhole to offset their construction costs with those collected taxes and then turn around and charge a toll.

  • AlmightyJb||

    The direction the politicians are looking to go is a pay per mile system where a gps device installed in your car wirelessly transmits the miles you drive and you pay taxes based on this. While certainly more expensive and less efficient than a gas tax, it has the benefit of the goverment installing a gps tracking device on your car. Not to worry though. They will absolutly promise you that they will not be tracking your movements with it.

  • ||

    What the people want is fine, right? But only as long as it agrees with your ideology.

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