The Road Ahead Should Not Be Paved with Pork

America’s highways need work—not only in terms of their physical improvement, but also, and more fundamentally, in terms of the way their construction and maintenance are financed. Most proposals, unfortunately, are at best a mixed bag. A report released in February by the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission illustrates the problem. On the one hand, it proposes the replacement of one type of fuel tax with a user fee based on the number of miles driven. (Total fees assessed would be based on data collected from a signal emanating from a driver’s automobile, similar to E-Z pass systems used today.) This reform alone could greatly reduce waste in road financing.

On the other hand, the report also recommends that all revenues from the fee go straight to Washington, D.C., and be allocated by Congress. As Independent Institute Research Fellow Gabriel Roth suggests, however, that diversion of funds would re-politicize the user-fee revenues, resulting in more waste, fraud, and abuse. A better option would be for states, not the feds, to collect the funds. But not even this is not ideal, according to Roth.

Major reform in transportation funding, Roth writes, “cannot be expected until roads, which are too important to be left to the vicissitudes of politics, are brought into the market economy, and treated like food, water, telecommunications and other necessities.”

“Some Good—and Bad—Ideas for Funding Roads,” by Gabriel Roth (3/30/09)

Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship, and the Future of Roads, edited by Gabriel Roth

[Cross-posted on The Lighthouse]

Carl Close is Research Fellow and Senior Editor for The Independent Institute and Assistant Editor of The Independent Review and editor of The Lighthouse, The Independent Institute’s weekly e-mail newsletter.
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