Join Now

APA Utah News & Events

Don’t Pause the Gas Tax, Redirect It

July 27, 2022 by admin

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of APAUT.

Congressman Jake Auchincloss — The president recently advocated for a gas tax holiday, which would save drivers only a few dollars over a few months. It also does not address the core problem. We don’t need a gas tax holiday. We need a gas tax reset: an overhaul of transportation funding. We must free our infrastructure from the grip of big oil and car-centric planning by handing highways over to the states and redirecting the federal gas tax to support bottom-up Strong Towns initiatives.

The Highway Trust Fund is running such a massive deficit that the gas tax couldn’t meet its needs even if it were five times higher—and what is doled out is allocated without reference to the metrics that matter most, like how well projects connect people to jobs, services, and one another. The driving metric is, simply, more vehicle miles (pun intended). To the detriment of state budgets, the federal transportation system incentivizes states to build road after road without regard to future costs of maintenance, operation, and environmental impact. This model of car-centric planning is exactly why, when energy prices spike, even the president has few good options to lower costs for Americans.

The solution is devolution. Congress should leave highway taxation and spending to the states. We should commensurately remove federal red tape and regulations on highways, beyond a minimum standard of safety, so that states and cities can use their dollars to address local mobility with organic solutions. The federal gas tax should remain but be used, instead, to subsidize locally sponsored projects that promote walkability, micromobility, and transit.

The benefits of reforming federal highway funding and changing the way we spend the federal gas tax would be swift and tangible. First, giving states and cities more latitude will encourage local innovation, helping us find better transportation solutions and root out failed practices. Second, it will compel honest accounting of the cost of car-centric infrastructure. Right now, federal gas tax revenue incentivizes states to build and build without thinking about the compounded costs of maintaining an ever-expanding roadway, which are paid for by our children in the form of federal debt. Eliminating that revenue stream eliminates that unsustainable incentive. Third, a transparent account of the costs of maintenance will make it more likely that states implement strategies like congestion pricing and improved alternative mobility options, like cycling lanes, rail, and on-demand transit. The transition will be disruptive to politicians and bureaucrats, but the net effect will be a lower carbon footprint, better mobility, and more walkable downtowns.

Both parties will be reluctant to reform a system that has been in place for 70 years and funds critical infrastructure. The federal government, though, is not abandoning the Interstate Highway System; it is transitioning to the tried-and-tested model of federalism, which has mediated infrastructure governance since the time of Alexander Hamilton. Indeed, the original highway law envisioned that transition happening by the 1970s. Robust federal involvement was necessary at the inception and construction of a grand enterprise. Now, though, the highways are the laggard, not the vanguard, of mobility innovation; federal involvement has gone from catalyzing a new endeavor, in the 1950s, to micromanagement and mission creep in the 21st century. Washington owns less than 1% of all public roads, but has spending jurisdiction over 85% of vehicle miles of travel. Centralized control is suffocating the next generation of mobility innovation.

The world has changed since the 1950s. The postwar experiment of car-centric infrastructure is not working. It has exacerbated climate change. It has hamstrung our budgets. It has hollowed out our downtowns. We need a new Eisenhower project dedicated to a simple proposition: An American should not need to own a car to thrive in this century. That requires handing the highways over to the states, and redirecting the federal gas tax to infrastructure for walking, cycling, transit, and other Strong Towns initiatives.

APA Utah is Powered by

Platinum Sponsors

Gold Sponsors

Silver Sponsors

Bronze Sponsors