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Decades of research shows that expanding roads doesn’t provide lasting congestion relief. More lanes means more traffic.

People biking, walking and riding transit pay fair share

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By Randy Neufeld

When you’re constantly shelling out for gas taxes, title transfers, registration fees, license fees, tolls, and city stickers, it’s hard not to think that you, literally, own the road.  

A new report by the environmental group U.S. PIRG, “Who Pays for Roads?,” tells a very different story. The reality is we’re driving ourselves towards bankruptcy. Gas taxes and other fees cover less than half of road maintenance and construction costs. The rest is covered by general taxpayers at all levels of government, so people walking, biking and and riding transit are paying more than their fair share.

Of course it's important to keep in mind few people use only one mode of transportation. Many Chicagoland residents drive, walk, bike and ride the bus. Just like we're all sharing the road, everybody is paying taxes, fees and fares.

Unfortunately, the myth that drivers pay and others don’t persists and often poisons the discussion. The “road fund” is seen as an entitlement to accommodate those that contribute by paying gas taxes. This has led to some very foolish investments and very foolish designs of street space that cater to cars at any cost, and inconvenience and endanger people moving in other ways. 

As finances in Illinois, Chicago and the suburbs enter a new level of crisis it’s important that we seek new ways to fund and plan transportation. The gas tax system is a catastrophe threatening every level of government. In our desperation for new revenue to stay solvent let’s do two things: (1) figure out how to price transportation so that the true and complete costs “drive” the kinds of travel behavior and mode choices that society can afford, financially, spacially, and health-wise, and (2) let’s separate the revenue from investment decisions. Let’s fund the kind of streets we want, and dump the handouts to an auto-choked system that’s not working for us anyway.

Be sure to give the U.S. PIRG report a read, “Who Pays for Roads? How the ‘Users Pays’ Myth Gets in the Way of Solutions to America’s Transportation Problems.

Guest contributer Randy Neufeld is a board member and former executive director of Active Trans