I was reading this week about several state DOTs that don’t have the funds to maintain the roads already built, much less build new ones, because they lack the budget. There are several reasons for this state of affairs.
First and foremost none of the states having budget issues has raised their gas tax since 1993 with the exception of California. Some of them haven’t raised the gas tax since 1987. In the meantime the fleet fuel efficiency has gone from 14 MPG back then to almost 26 MPG now, or about 50% better, while the retail price of gas has gone from around a buck a gallon to $3.50 as I type this, meaning the percentage of price covered by taxes has been reduced by 2/3.
Second, we have about twice as many cars on the roads as we had back then with a much lower Passenger load factor. In TX the load factor is so low now that the only thing that could make it lower would be cars driving around by themselves, somewhere around 1.07 people per car. Add to that the cars are bigger and heavier than they were back then and you get more wear and tear on the roads with no extra money to pay for it, and also more and bigger cars need more space than before and more new roads.
Something that could help that would be a larger mode share from bicycles. I know I’m preaching to the choir in this blog, but for those that get directed here by search engines I’ll make the list. Bikes are much smaller than cars on the roads, you can get about 8 bikes in the space of one car. Bicycles do less damage to the roads than just leaving them sit, one trip in a sub-compact car does as much damage as 1100 bicycles, one luxury SUV does the damage of 8000 bicycles, using the AASHTO formula comparing a fully loaded touring bike to the cars having a single 180 pound driver and no passengers. Had the increase in vehicles been covered by bicycles instead of SOV, the lowered emissions of the newer fleet would have improved air quality as bicycles are pollution-neutral and the bikes would have taken up far less space on the roads than the cars. One place that has seen all of their traffic increase covered by an increase in bicycle mode share hasn’t had to build a new street in a decade, just regular repaving as they age. This would be Portland OR, of course.
Something else that would help is making gas taxes a percentage of the price, not fixed per gallon. That way as gas prices went up and consumption went down tax revenue would hold instead of dropping like a stone in a still pond.
A third thing that would help would be a “road space tax” levied on new vehicles (bicycles included) that would pay for the space to drive that vehicle, based on the road space it needs. Bicycles use a lot less space than cars, and tons less space than SUVs so the bicycle tax would be much less than the tax on motor vehicles and would also establish a monetary right to the roads because bicycles’ space would be covered, and would also allow for increased pushing for segregated bike infrastructure as “we” would be paying for it, so long as the tax wasn’t the only source for bike infrastructure as car taxes have not been the sole source for motor vehicle infrastructure.
Now go out there and think of more ways to pay for roads, because they don’t come free…