Charging by the mile, a gas tax alternative, sees serious movement


The Illinois Department of Transportation is ready to build many more lanes and flyovers at the Circle Interchange, shown here in a postcard from 1963. Posted by Brandon Bartoszek. 

Because of vehicles with higher fuel efficiency, slightly less driving, and the gas tax not being changed since 1993, the motor vehicle fuel tax, or “gas tax”, has failed to pay for everything that Congress has legislated that it should pay for. The Highway Trust Fund, which includes the Mass Transit Account, has received several infusions of money from the “general revenue fund” – to the tune of over $60 billion.

But a new report from the Government Accountability Office, the congressional think tank focused on financing, past, present, and future, has made the country take a giant step forward in considering a switch to a fee that more accurately charges usage. The report, like all GAO studies, was commissioned by the House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee*.

The gas tax charges drivers based on their use of petroleum, different vehicles can go different distances on the same amount of petroleum: essentially, some pay less than others for the same use of the road. Addiitionally, the counts of how much people drive has decreased (called vehicle miles traveled, or VMT), yet our demand for funds to maintain and build new infrastructure outpaces the incoming revenues from the gas tax. Lastly, the federal gas tax hasn’t changed at all, sticking to a cool 18.4 cents per gallon (for non-diesel drivers) since 1993. “While the gas tax was equal to 17 percent of the cost of a gallon of gas when it was set at its current level in 1993, it is now only 5 percent” (Streetsblog).

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House of Representatives transportation bill fraught with bad ideas


Funding for trails? Forget it, say House Republicans. Photo by Eric Rogers.

Updated 15:36: See additions to this article under “updates”

No matter how you get around, whether on foot, by bike, in a car, on a bus or by train or water taxi, the federal surface transportation bill impacts your travel.

The surface transportation bill does essentially two things:

1. It sets national transportation policy. This includes plans on how much to subsidize monthly car parking for workers, monthly transit passes (see note 1); regional planning; safety goals; and environmental protection from vehicle pollution and infrastructure impacts.

2. Defines which transportation modes and programs get how much money.

A majority of trains, buses, bike lanes, roads, and highways in Chicagoland were built with funding from the surface transportation bill. And they continue to be majority-funded by federal tax dollars, year after year.

The last surface transportation bill is called SAFETEA-LU and it expired on September 30, 2009, at the end of fiscal year 2009 – Transportation 4 America has a clock counting the time since expiration. Since then, it has been extended many times while Congressional committees and representatives work on a new one.

A new one may be enacted this year!

Continue reading House of Representatives transportation bill fraught with bad ideas

Innovative financing for transportation infrastructure, notes from a seminar


The Metropolitan Planning Council graciously provided me with a free entry to a seminar in October about infrastructure funding and financing at their office at 140 S Dearborn. The seminar featured Rob Puentes of the Brookings Institution, Illinois Senator Heather Stearns, and Dr. Paul Hanley a professor at the University of Iowa. They talked about three innovative ways to fund construction of highways, airports, transit, and other capital-intensive projects: the surface transportation bill (Puentes), public-private partnerships (Stearns), and distance-based taxing (Hanley).

This article will be presented in two parts: presentations from Puentes and Stearns today, and Hanley on Friday. It is my intention that by presenting that discussion to readers, you can learn about some of the ways infrastructure in the United States is paid for.

Continue reading Innovative financing for transportation infrastructure, notes from a seminar