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).

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

New transportation bill passes: Would an extension of previous bill have been better?


A Metra train passes over a busy portion of the Kennedy Expressway. Photo taken from Grand Avenue. 

The Senate and House of Representatives finished their conference on Friday, June 29, to finalize the new surface transportation bill. The bill is responsible for making it legal for the federal government to collect gas taxes and manage the Highway Trust Fund and its Mass Transit Account, disbursing revenues to road, transit, railroad, water, bicycling, and pedestrian transportation infrastructure projects. The previous bill, known as SAFETEA-LU, was extended for 1,000 days since its original expiration in 2009. The new bill is known as MAP-21 and will expire September 30, 2014, for a total duration of 27 months. President Obama is expected to sign the bill, H.R. 4348, on Friday.

There are many changes, good and bad, between the two bills that have transit, bicycling, and pedestrian advocates disappointed. Continue reading New transportation bill passes: Would an extension of previous bill have been better?

Grid Shots: Our deteriorating infrastructure

The theme of this post is especially salient given that Congress cannot agree on a new transportation bill (instead they renewed the existing program one more time). Then last Friday I get an email from the Natural Resources Defense Council, giving me an update on dilapidated transportation in the state (2,200 structurally deficient bridges, transit systems that need repairs and upgrades).


Division Street bridge over Goose Island. The bridge will be replaced. Photo by Seth Anderson.  Continue reading Grid Shots: Our deteriorating infrastructure

Transportation bill update for March 2nd, 2012


Photos by Jane Healy. 

Update March 5, 2012: Cloture vote is Tuesday, March 6th, via Smart Growth America

Republican leadership in the House has essentially admitted that their multi-year surface transportation bill needs to be reworked. Read all our past coverage on it. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, our region’s metropolitan planning organization, is doing a great job keeping up with this on their blog and in their weekly newsletter. From today’s newsletter:

Transportation reauthorization update. This week, the U.S. House of Representatives discussed replacing their initial 5-year reauthorization bill, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act (AEIJA), with a reduced 18-month program.

This proposal would fund federal transportation programs through mid-2013, and would reconnect mass transit funding to the Highway Trust Fund. Also this week, the U.S. Senate failed to advance one of the non-germane amendments that have been attached to Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century [MAP-21, the Senate’s version of a surface transportation bill]), the two-year reauthorization bill. Senate Majority Leader Reid announced that he intends to file cloture on the substitute amendment to MAP-21 [cloture requires 60 votes to pass – the Democratic caucus controls only 53 seats]. The vote is scheduled for March 6.

Read more on their Policy Updates blog.

What else is happening? The Senate has included the Cardin-Cochrane amendment that gives metro areas control over bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure spending.


The House of Representatives cannot get away with passing a bill that leaves us empty train tracks. 

House transportation bill: What’s at stake for Chicago


A broken down 4400-series bus on Clark Street in 2007. Steven remembers that these buses seemed to break down more often than other models, and their retrofitted wheelchair lifts were slow and difficult to use. Imagine if they couldn’t be replaced when they needed to be. Photo by Sabrina Downard. 

Ed. note: This is a post by guest contributor Brian Morrissey, of Commuter Age – or is that Commute Rage? – a blog covering the economic and social issues of transportation. It was originally written for Taking the Lane, a blog about “bicycling, economics, feminism, and other cultural commentary” by Elly Blue. -SV

First, the latest on the surface transportation bill from the House of Representatives we’ve been discussing so frequently in the past two weeks (known as HR7):

  • Speaker John Boehner doesn’t have the votes, delays until after President’s Day (Politico)
  • What the House transportation bill means for the Bay Area (SF Streetsblog)
  • Obama takes a stand, threatens veto (DC Streetsblog)
  • Reps. Lipinski and Dold joined CTA and Metra officials to call on the GOP to fix HR7 (WGN-TV)
  • Wed., Feb. 29, is the first ever Riders for Better Transit Day of Action (see end of post)

Continue reading House transportation bill: What’s at stake for Chicago

These three Illinois representatives will thankfully oppose the disastrous transportation bill


Transit and highway, side-by-side, along the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago. The current and proposed funding situations are insufficient for both, as the gas tax is a flat rate that hasn’t changed since 1993. Photo by Eric Rogers.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been reporting on a transportation bill in the House of Representatives that kills funding for transit (which millions of people across the country depend on to get to work) and bicycle and walking infrastructure. There’s evidence that the bill may die on the House floor next week, thanks in part to three Illinois representatives who are voicing their opposition:

Congressmen who represent Chicago’s suburbs finally are weighing in on that transportation bill that’s due to hit the House floor next week, and they don’t like what they see.

In a flurry of statements after several days of quiet review, U.S. Reps. Robert Dold [10th district], Judy Biggert [13th district] and Adam Kinzinger [11th district] — all Republicans — flatly say or strongly suggest that they cannot support the bill drafted by House GOP leadership. From

Continue reading These three Illinois representatives will thankfully oppose the disastrous transportation bill