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Steve Blackledge,
U.S. PIRG

Myth Busted: Federal roads costs not covered by gas taxes

For Immediate Release

SEATTLE – A new report, Do Roads Pay for Themselves? Setting the Record Straight on Transportation Funding,released today by the Washington Public Interest Research Group disproves the common misperception that road-building is paid for by user fees in the form of gas taxes. Instead, the report shows that federal gas taxes barely cover the $1.915 billion WSDOT receives from the Federal government.

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.

"The Federal Government needs to make difficult choices about how to fund our troubled transportation system," said Lindsey Jacobson, a WashPIRG program associate. "The first task is to discard common myths about how roads are paid for."

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.

"Gas tax revenue pays for the construction and maintenance of our transportation system at the federal, state and local levels. But these funds are diminishing because people are driving less and they are driving in more efficient vehicles," stated Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, chair of the Transportation committee. "In Seattle, more people are finding it easier to take a bus, train, or bike or walk to their destination.  This means gas tax revenue for the city is diminishing while our need to preserve and expand our transportation infrastructure is still growing."

Rasmussen’s comments were echoed by WashPIRG public interest advocate Steve Breaux, who covered transportation issues as a staffer with the Washington Legislature from 2007-2009.

"Vehicles such as hybrids pay less and less in gas tax as they become more efficient and all-electric vehicles don’t contribute anything to highway funding in terms of fuel taxes, even though they still contribute to highway congestion and wear-and-tear," said Breaux. "Vehicle license and registration fees have been reduced to such an extent that drivers of the most fuel efficient vehicles make only a token contribution to the cost of our transportation infrastructure, except when they use a tolled facility such as the Tacoma Narrows Bridge or drive onto a Washington State Ferry."

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